Balancing Sleep

It’s difficult to function without enough sleep, yet the average person is sleep deprived, getting about one hour less of sleep each night than what the body requires.  Given the busy world we live in you get all sorts of excuses for why it’s not possible to sleep more: the commute, the kids’ swimming lessons, the housework, and so on. In any case, it always comes back to the fundamental reality that you can’t force others to do what you know will be helpful for them. You can point out that making sleep (and self-care in general) more of a priority is acting from their wise self, and that just as going to work isn’t really negotiable, self-care shouldn’t be either, but in the end you must give people room to make the decision for themselves.

Sleep deprivation impairs memory, is associated with reduced attention and alertness, and increases irritability and emotional instability. Further, sleep loss appears to differentially disrupt the learning of affective experiences, potentially creating a dominance of negative emotional memory.  In other words, sleep deprivation causes people to remember emotional situations as being more negative than they actually were.

Of course, not all people are sleep deprived by choice. Some people suffer from insomnia. They may have tried all of the suggestions for improving sleep to no avail and may finally agreed to a trial of medications with their psychiatrist to see if this might improve his sleep. For most people, however, there are things they can do to improve sleep.

Here are some examples:

  • Going to bed earlier or getting up later
  • Cutting down or eliminating caffeine, nicotine, and other stimulants
  • Taking sleeping medications (and other medications) as prescribed, or using herbal remedies approved by a doctor or pharmacist, such as valerian, melatonin, or chamomile tea
  • Eating earlier in the evening and not going to bed on an empty stomach
  • Ensuring the bedroom is a comfortable temperature with reduced light and noise, and that the bed is used only for sleep (and sex), rather than for watching television, working on the computer, and so on
  • Establishing an end-of-day routine that allows time for activities that get the body ready for sleep; for example, watching nonstressful television programs, light reading, taking a hot bath, listening to a relaxation CD, saying prayers or meditating, and so on

Sources: DBT Made Simple

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