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The Elusive ZZZ's

In this day in age, we all know how important sleep is for our health. We know that 7-9 hours is recommended for adults, yet most adults don’t regularly get that amount. For those who do actively try to sleep for that amount of time, it can be frustrating when sleep doesn’t come – or is interrupted during the night.

A lot of things can get in the way of falling asleep quickly or staying asleep. This article will provide some strategies to help both adults and kids fall asleep faster and improve the quality of sleep.

The Golden Rule of sleep: Create a bedtime routine! I know, I know – you’re not five anymore, you don’t need a “bedtime routine.” But it’s actually so important! Your body naturally creates rhythms and cycles, so having a set routine that you go through before bed can help remind your body that it’s time to wind down for sleep. The routine could look something as simple as drinking a cup of tea, washing your face, and brushing your teeth. Additionally, going to bed and waking up at roughly the same time each day will be helpful. Ideally, your bedtime and wakeup time will roughly mirror the day’s natural light.

Limit screen time 30 minutes before bed. This is a tough one, as so many of us think we’re “settling down” by scrolling through social media for five (or 10 or 15) minutes in bed. In reality, the light emitted from screens disrupts our body’s circadian rhythms, or our natural sleep-wake cycles. For teenagers who are having trouble sleeping, this could be an important area of intervention for parents. Instead of scrolling the ‘Gram or watching TV before bed, perhaps read, stretch, write, draw, or partake in a different activity instead.

Move enough during the day. This one is self-explanatory. If your body hasn’t moved enough in the day, you simply may not be all that tired or feel like you need to rest. After all, if you’ve been sedentary all day, it may feel like you’ve “rested” all day long. Going for short walks during the day, getting up from the couch or your desk often, and getting several changes of scenery (even if it’s just running an errand or going for a short drive) throughout the day can help.

Address anxiety. Oftentimes people who have trouble with sleep have some anxious thoughts running through their brains, or their body is storing anxiety in a way that doesn’t let them relax. Progressive muscle relaxation (I won’t go into detail about this in this article, but feel free to reach out to me with questions!) and breathing can help.

Here’s a simple breathing exercise that you can do if you’re having trouble sleeping. While in bed, lie on your back. If it feels comfortable, you can place your hands on your belly to notice your inhales and exhales. Take some deep breaths. Then, for as long as it feels comfortable, practice the 7-7-7 breath. Inhale for a count of 7, hold for 7 seconds, exhale for 7 seconds. If you’re new to breathwork, that might be too long to inhale-hold-exhale, so back that down to perhaps a 3 or 4 count. Eventually, though, work up to 7 seconds, the amount of time it takes to spur a parasympathetic response in the body. A parasympathetic response is one in which the body becomes downregulated and calm, the opposite of a sympathetic state (the flight or fight state). In order for sleep to overtake us, our bodies have to be relaxed. Another benefit to 7-7-7 breathing is that it gives your mind a task to focus on. If racing thoughts can’t seem to stop, directing your mind to a specific task – counting – can be hugely helpful.

Other important sleep hygiene “to-dos.” Make sure your bedroom is dark and cool. Most people sleep best around 65 degrees. Also, some people do well eating a snack before bed, as it allows them to feel satiated and they don’t wake up hungry. For others, eating within an hour or two of bedtime means they are still digesting while they’re trying to sleep, and that can cause them to wake up in the night. Experiment and see which condition you sleep best in.

On the whole, these interventions could help everyone improve their quality of sleep. But for those who consistently struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep, these tips could dramatically change sleep patterns for the better – if they are consistently implemented. Bad habits are hard to break, but the payoff will be so worth it. Falling asleep in minutes and sleeping through the night sure sounds worth it to me!

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