Helping Clients with Sleep Issues
Sleep plays a crucial role throughout our lives in helping to protect physical, mental, and emotional health; quality of life; and safety. How we feel when we are awake depends partly on what happens while we are sleeping, with damage from sleep deficiency causing not only daytime tiredness, but also interference with work, school, social functioning, and driving.
If your client is struggling with a sleep issue, what is the best way to fix it? Here are the top tips from a sleep expert:
- Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This conditions our body to follow a regular pattern of sleep, allowing our circadian rhythms to regulate the body’s natural clock.
- Set up a quiet, dark, cool sleep environment. Studies show that by reducing light and noise, we also eliminate many of the disruptions that would wake us too early. Note that bedrooms are a place for sleeping and sex, but not engaging with electronic devices, working, or playing with pets. Computers and tablets, for instance, should not even be used in the brief period before sleeping, as the light emitted stimulates the brain, fooling it into thinking it is time to be wakeful.
- Four to six hours before retiring, steer clear of items on the “forbidden” list. Not only caffeine, nicotine, and chocolate make this list, but also alcohol. Busting a myth here, we can say that a “nightcap” will help you get to sleep, true, but alcohol worsens your sleep, fragmenting the stages of it and often keeping you from staying asleep. In fact, any eating or drinking at all in the several hours before bedtime can cause disrupted sleep, through problems such as heartburn, reflux, and excessive need to urinate. The other item on the list is exercise, which is great overall for improved wellness and healthy sleep, but shouldn’t occur fewer than four hours before you sleep, as your revved up body will resist sleeping.
- Say goodbye to the “nana” nap. Have you ever heard of “sleep drive”? The longer we are awake, the stronger the drive to go to sleep. Taking a nap relieves the desire to sleep, but then reduces the drive to sleep later at an appropriate time. Despite the popularity of “la siesta” in Latin cultures, the prevailing wisdom from sleep experts is that, if you are getting sufficient sleep of good quality, you shouldn’t need a nap. If you consistently do, you may wish to get an evaluation for sleep disorder.
- Develop some sleep rituals which include quiet activities before sleeping. Reading, relaxing music, meditation or other stillness practice, and the traditional warm bath can all relax us, helping to induce sleep. Try these 15 minutes before bedtime.
- Don’t fight your body in bed. If you are being visited by insomnia, don’t lie there struggling, as your body/mind begins to associate your bed as a place of anxiety and difficulties. After 15 minutes of not being able to sleep, get up and go do a quiet activity in another quiet place until you feel sleepy; then return to your bed to sleep.
- Sleep is supremely important; treat it with respect! Don’t sacrifice sleep just because all the things you were doing during the day/evening took longer than they should have. Schedule your sleep like a good time manager and stick to your sleep schedule no matter what else happens during the day (adapted from Peters, 2014).
This blog post was adapted from Mental Health Academy’s “Educating Clients About Physical Wellness” professional development course.
- Peters, B. (2014). Better sleep guidelines: Top 10 ways to get a better night’s sleep tonight. About.com. Retrieved on 13 January, 2016, from: hyperlink.
Yes, but…. what about when you’re a shift worker??
If you’re a shift worker it helps if you can still have a bedtime routine as much as possible, still try to get your environment to be cool and dark and quiet as you can (you might need a fan or white noise to cover up noise). An eye mask is useful. Use light and dark to your advantage as much as possible: stay under bright light during your waking hours and make things darker the last few hours before you sleep (use sunglasses, curtains to help you). There are relaxation strategies you can use regularly to train yourself that it’s sleep time. It’s tough if you have changing shift hours. And shift work is hard on your body so try not to do it for years at a time . . .