Mental Strategies For Better Sleep

Do you ever lay awake at night, mind racing, wondering why you cannot fall asleep? We give you some practical mental strategies for falling asleep and staying asleep. 

By Lynell Ross, Certified Health and Wellness Coach

The two most common sleep problems that people have are either with trouble falling asleep or, waking up in the night and not being able to fall back to sleep. Which one do you experience more often? If you are more likely to wake up during the night, then worrying and thinking too much are what is probably keeping you awake more than physical causes.

According to the World Health Organization, almost two-thirds of adults fail to meet the recommended eight hours of sleep need for good physical and mental health. Most people underestimate the importance of getting enough quality sleep.

In the audio book by Matthew Walker, neuroscientist, explains that driving while drowsy is more dangerous that drunk driving. A study by Automobile Association of America Foundation for Traffic Safety estimated that 328,000 drowsy diving crashes occur annually, with 109,000 injuries and 6,400 fatalities.

What’s more, it isn’t just accidents that are caused by lack of sleep, but our health is severely impacted as well. Sleep deprivation can lead to serious health problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, heart attack and stroke. Sleep is vital for learning and memory and” when we are deprived of sleep it can lead to tremendous emotional problems”, says Dr. Steven Feinsilver, the director of the Center for Sleep Medicine at Icahn School or Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. 

Research shows that people who sleep too little over many nights don't perform as well on complex mental tasks as do people who get closer to seven hours of sleep each night. Studies among adults also show that getting less or much more than 7-8 hours of sleep a night is associated with a higher mortality rate. School age children need 9-11 hours of sleep. Lack of sleep is a real problem for kids and teens who stay up late using their computers and phones, yet must wake up early for school.

Why We Don’t Sleep Well

The way we sleep is affected by both mental and physical reasons. Our ability to sleep is affected by the foods we eat, by the amount of exercise we get during the day, and by our stress level. We are a whole person who needs to be connected to what we think, what we feel and to understand how to take care of ourselves mentally and physically. If you eat nutritious foods, get a fair amount of exercise or activity, are able to take in fresh air and sunshine, drink plenty of water, and still have problems sleeping, then you probably struggle with a very active mind. If you wake up and night and are one of those people who says, “I can’t shut my mind off, I just worry and think about everything I need to do,” then take heart. You will find some answers below.

No Need to Worry

Now that you know more reasons to get enough sleep, you may be even more worried about not sleeping well. There is no need to panic. The following strategies will help you get a restful night’s sleep if you follow them. However, the most important thing you can do to sleep well is to learn how to shut off your thoughts and stop worrying.

 The key to a good night’s sleep is to recognize that worrying is useless. Do what you can during the day to take care of yourself, connect with your family, manage your finances, do your best at your job and then at night—let it all go. When those thoughts creep in, shut them down. Problems seem magnified at night, and that isn’t a good time to solve them. Tell yourself there is nothing you can do in the middle of the night, and if you sleep well, you will make better decisions in the daytime. Instead of counting sheep, count all the things you are grateful for.

We Can Learn to Manage Our Minds

We can control our thoughts and seek help when we need to. There are many reasons why meditation is becoming so popular in todays society although it has been a source of healing and calm for thousands of years. Meditation is way of not paying attention to all those swirling thoughts in your head. You can not shut them off, but you can turn the volume down. By paying attention to your breath and slowing it down to a calm rhythmic breathing pattern, your thoughts will drift to the background. If your mind wanders and a new thought pops in, just notice it and let it go as if it were one of the news tickers at the bottom of the television screen. The key is to not to attach to a thought and obsess about it.

Another technique is to count all the things you are grateful for. Make a list in your mind and stay focused only on what you appreciate and that brings you happiness. If your mind wanders, bring it back to your grateful list. There are many resources for learning more about mindfulness, meditation and deep breathing exercises and they are all very powerful modalities for reducing stress and restoring peace and calm to your sleep.

A Plan to Help You Sleep 7-8 Hours Each Night

Tips for helping you build better sleep habits

  • Believe and affirm: You have within you the power to create a good night’s sleep and the ability to wake up feeling refreshed and well rested.

  • Goal: Set a goal to get consistent, peaceful sleep, to fall asleep easily and go back to sleep quickly if woken in the night. Overcome the fear of not sleeping.

  • Change what you believe. Many people have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep because they think they can’t tune out the day’s problems or they worry about the future. Once you learn you have control over thoughts, a whole world of better sleep opens up.

  • You can create new sleeping habits by going to bed and waking at the same time each day. 

  • Understand the causes of poor sleep. These include working at the computer within two hours of bedtime, listening to the news or upsetting shows before retiring, overeating, excessive alcohol, and unresolved worry. 

  • If you do wake in the night, keep the lights low. Instead of being upset and worrying that you aren’t sleeping, focus on your breathing, choose a meditation technique, or concentrate on your gratitude list.

 

Sleep Solution Strategies for Sweet Dreams

 

  • Do something to relax before bed time. Using relaxation techniques such as breathing and meditation can help you do away with nagging thoughts. Listen to soft music, journal or read.

  • Organize before you go to bed and make a “Things I Want to Do” list for the next day to relieve your mind. When you know everything is written down it will relieve your mind from having to concentrate on things that need to get done. By phrasing things in the positive and put it on paper you empower yourself to do the things you choose to do, instead of feeling overwhelmed.

  • Don’t go to bed mad at others or yourself.

  • Praise yourself for the things you did right today, rather than thinking about the things you didn’t do.

  • Think of things you are grateful for as you drift off to sleep. This works!

  • Put sleep on your daily priority list! What you do through the day affects your sleep.

  • Your bedroom should be a place for rest, free of work, bills and worry. It is a safe haven for you.

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