Author: Diana Gordon, Psy.D.
If you’re like many people, you sometimes feel like you don’t get enough sleep. Sleep problems have become so common that it’s become a social norm to reply “tired!” when people ask you how you’re doing. While occasional difficulty sleeping is normal, chronic sleep problems may indicate that you have insomnia. Insomnia doesn’t mean that you don’t sleep at all, but it does mean that you consistently have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep and/or feel that your sleep is low quality. It can be difficult to do all the things we need to do in a day when we’re tired. The good news is, there are very effective treatments for sleep problems. Best of all, these treatments are drug free and you can see results in just a few weeks.
We can all benefit from what psychologists call “sleep hygiene” techniques. These are behavioral strategies for helping get your body and mind ready for bed. If you have mild sleep problems, these strategies may be enough to get you back on track. Try implementing a few of these at a time and see what works best for you.
If you’d like to try implementing some sleep hygiene techniques in your daily life, here are some of the most effective tips:
In addition to these behavioral changes, it’s also important to manage some of your anxiety and worry about sleep, work, relationships, and other stressors. Often anxiety and stress can keep us awake at night. Reserve some time in the evening to do things that you enjoy and that relax you. Try to avoid working or engaging in stressful activities in the few hours before bedtime. If you find yourself worrying in bed, try doing some deep breathing exercises or a guided meditation to relax. You can also try keeping a pen and paper next to bed and jotting down any concerns that you’d like to address tomorrow. When a worry or idea comes into your head, jot it down and tell yourself that you’ll make sure to revisit it the next day. Try not to worry too much about whether or not you will fall asleep, because this can add unnecessary and unhelpful pressure to sleep. Remember that even if you’re tired tomorrow, you can still make it through the day.
It can be very challenging to make some of the changes we’ve outlined above. Good sleep hygiene requires a lot of time and effort. But the results can be dramatic, and getting more sleep can be very rewarding. If you’ve tried the strategies above and they haven't worked for you, don’t be discouraged. If your sleep still isn’t where you’d like it to be, you might want to consider seeing a sleep specialist who is trained in CBT for insomnia. A psychologist who specializes in sleep can evaluate your personal habits and provide tailored recommendations. Many people notice changes after just a few sessions of CBT for insomnia. In part 2 of this blog post, you can learn more about CBT for insomnia and how it might improve your sleep. Don't hesitate to contact us to find out whether CBT-I might be helpful for you.
Diana Gordon, Psy.D., Kari Kagan Psy.D., and Katie Leoni, Psy.D.
Drs. Gordon, Kagan, and Leoni practice psychotherapy in downtown San Francisco and Oakland. Their areas of expertise include anxiety, sleep, stress, depression, and addiction. They blog about these topics to provide research-based information about common problems and strategies to help manage them.