It’s no secret that a full night’s sleep carries numerous health benefits and is recommended for all of us. A good night’s sleep enables the body to repair from and prepare for another day. Adequate rest also helps to prevent things like heart disease, reduces inflammation, and decreases illness duration. A lesser-known fact is that sufficient sleep also helps to regulate emotions. Emotions are biologically-based responses that arise when something important to us is at stake. Although many factors have been associated with healthy emotional regulation, the role of sleep in this process is not often discussed. Nighttime sleep affects daytime mood and emotions, emotional reactivity, and the capacity to regulate positive and negative emotions. Conversely, daytime experiences affect sleep. This interplay between sleep and emotional regulation emphasizes the importance of regular, consistent, and sound sleep. How can we practice this? Sleeping well is a habit you can learn by incorporating the following 6 Tips for Better Sleep:
1. Develop a settling routine (that you actually enjoy)
Preparing for bedtime often consists of frantically tying up loose ends from the day and preparing for tomorrow. Rarely are we present and in the moment, focused on settling into comfortable and pleasant sleep. Identify a nighttime settling routine that includes pleasant self-care activities, and give yourself permission to enjoy whatever action you take. Perhaps having a soothing drink like chamomile tea, taking a warm shower with a favorite scented soap, practicing a relaxed breathing exercise, or employing a quick gratitude practice like naming 5 pleasant moments from the day before bedtime.
2. Make your bedroom a pleasant place to be
Is your bed comfortable? Cozy? Inviting? Consider upgrading your comforter or pillows if needed. Do what you can to maintain a clean and tidy sleeping space, and utilize additional comfort items (like a nightlight or lavender diffuser) as you like.
3. Practice consistency
Try to go to bed at the same time every night, and try to wake up at the same time each morning to reset and stabilize circadian rhythms.
4. Attend to your body
Discontinue caffeine consumption after 4 o’clock. Avoid eating large meals late at night or right before bed. Avoid alcohol as it interferes with sleep. Discontinue use of electronics an hour before bed.
5. Sleep only at nighttime, and only in your bed
Avoid taking naps as much as you can. Naps (as lovely as they often feel) may interfere with your ability to fall asleep in the evening. When you go to sleep at night, ensure you are sleeping in one place: your bed. Your bed is for sleeping, not for work, homework, eating, or other activities. If after getting into bed you are unable to fall asleep after 30 minutes, get up and do another activity elsewhere, such as reading or listening to calming music (try to avoid screens as the light from electronics will signal your brain that it is daytime/time to get up!). After 15 minutes of a calming and pleasant activity, try returning to bed to sleep again. If you still can’t sleep after 30 minutes, get up and repeat this routine as much as needed.
6. Practice coping with bad dreams
For some, sleep may feel frightening because it is a vulnerable state of being where we “let go”. If this resonates with you, try sleep preparation techniques ahead of bedtime, such as:
- Nightmare Rescripting: prepare yourself for a bad dream by thinking of a bad dream and then imagine a new and different ending. Mentally rehearse this new ending many times before going to sleep. The new ending can be as creative or silly as you like, you are only limited by your imagination!
- Before going to sleep, prepare to re-orient yourself if/when you wake from a bad dream by reminding yourself that you are at home, that you are safe. Practice imagining yourself waking up from a bad dream and reorienting yourself to the present, to safety, by splashing your face with cold water, holding a comfort object, having a bottle of rose or lavender essential oil to smell (or use lavender pillow spray), going to the window to see surroundings, or taking a breath of fresh air. If you do later wake up from a bad dream, move your body if you can and reorient yourself immediately.
- Put a glass of water by your bed to take a drink. Place a comfort object by the bed, such as a photograph or a stuffed animal.