Good sleep can mean the difference between crazy and sane … between crying between meetings at work or lashing out at your husband over laundry and a semi-functional person who can fake it enough to keep her marriage and her job intact. It’s one of the members of my holy trinity of good mental health, with diet and exercise.
Over the ages, sleep and depression have proved to have a dysfunctional, angry relationship: Depression undoubtedly causes sleep difficulties, whether that means low grade insomnia (typical with severe forms of clinical depression an episodic depression) or sleeping too much (prevalent in atypical depression or mild depression). That much most of us know. However,sleep interruptions can, in fact, cause depression, as well. I can say that sleep deprivation broke me seven years ago and delivered me to the psych ward. That’s why I’m so emphatic about sleep hygiene.
But getting your zzzzs is a tad like a chess game: do I get up, don’t I? Do I check my email? No? Do I count sheep? Will those vicious animals keep me up? I had been engaged in a list of bad behaviors until I read “Quiet Your Mind & Get to Sleep” and set myself straight. Here are just four things you should avoid to hit the sheets and stay there:
1. Staying in Bed When You Can’t Sleep
Despite sometimes-conflicting advice, it is important to leave the bed when you find yourself awake. Leave the bed within fifteen to twenty minutes of waking up or when you realize you won’t be able to fall back asleep. If you are upset about anything, leave the room. That action sends the message to your brain that there is a separation between the place of rest, which is your bed, and feelings of being awake. Although it seems counterintuitive, it is recommended that you stay out of your room until you feel like you can sleep. By continuing this behavior night after night, you are strengthening the connection between sleeping and your bed.
2. Watch the Clock
For some people, watching the clock feels like counting sheep, or, in my case, praying the rosary; however, this activity can be very arousing, making it that much more difficult to nod off again. We are programed to live by the clock, allowing it to direct our actions throughout the day. However, when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep, it is better to base your decision strictly on how you feel.
3. Doing Arousing Activities in Bed
Falling asleep with the laptop in hand not only will keep you awake, but will give you bad work nightmares. So will bringing a carton of ice-cream to bed. You’ll dream about a big cow coming after you. Other activities to be avoided: listening to music, texting or talking on the phone, smoking cigarettes, watching television, planning your day, working, and paying bills. The bed should be for sleeping and sex. That’s it. Again, by establishing the connection between your bed and sleeping, you are conditioning your body and mind to sleep.
4. Trying to Sleep
If you breathe and eat, there has most likely been a time in your life when you have tried your best to nod off. The primary difference between good sleepers and bad sleepers is that the latter group tries to sleep, while the first group doesn’t have to. There are a few ways you can condition your minds to not try so hard:
- Go to bed at a normal bedtime, no earlier
- Do not linger in bed after the alarm goes off
- Do not nap
- Do not stay in bed when you can’t sleep
- Challenge catastrophic thoughts about sleep with true statements such as: “It’s okay to be awake; it’ll pass. I’ve survived it before.” Or “I can be at peace while awake during the night.”
It’s best to keep in mind a famous study from the 1980s, where a group of subjects were told to think about anything but a white bear. The results: they all thought about a white bear.