Oftentimes, we take sleep for granted and it can be very difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Whether you're depressed, anxious, or just really feel like you have a tough time sleeping, here are three tips to help you get a good night's sleep. Number one, no screens, 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime. Screens emit blue lights, which are harmful to our circadian rhythm. They make our bodies think it's daytime. When we have a screen in front of our face, our bodies say, okay, we're going to be awake, and then the second you shut it off, the body doesn't think, oh, alright, now it's time to go to sleep. It thinks now it's time to start winding down. So it's really important to not have any screen time including phones, tablets, televisions, computers, any kind between half an hour and an hour before bed. Second, develop a routine. Try and come up with a few different things you can do the night before to prepare yourself for the next day. Preferably things that don't include screens such as laying your clothes out for the next day, brushing your teeth, making your lunch, preparing something to help you get ready for bed. Just doing something that doesn't require a lot of thought and you can just do without looking at screen. As a side tip, many electronics now have a night mode where it eliminates all the blue lights and that are harmful for your eyes and for your circadian rhythm. That being said, it's still good to pair down the electronics as it gets closer and closer to bedtime. And number three, try to come up with a relaxing bedtime ritual such as mindful meditation or a breathing exercise that can help really bring your energy down so that you're ready to go to sleep. Keep in mind that it's a process to get yourself to sleep and be kind to yourself. Give yourself the opportunity to fall asleep. By utilizing these three steps, you'll find that you can have better what we call sleep hygiene or taking care of yourself towards sleep, and you'll find you'll have a much more restful sleep.
When dealing with depression or anxiety or any other mental illness, oftentimes people will experience issues with sleep. Sleep is really important for our development and growth. Oftentimes people think, oh, when I'm sleeping, my brain turns off. It's actually the exact opposite. While you sleep, your brain processes everything you've learned over the course of the day. If you don't get that sleep, you haven't learned whatever it is happened during that day. Sleep can be restorative. It can provide you with energy as well as a clear mind to tackle the next day. One thing that can be difficult when dealing with mental illness is that either you get too much or too little sleep. Both of these can actually be difficult and problematic.
One good tip to getting sleep at night if you're lying in bed with a racing mind and not able to sleep, is to get up out of bed and stand next to your bed. What's really important is to have your brain associate your bed with sleep. So if you're lying in bed thinking, your brain is now associating your bed with thinking. Instead, if you get up, do all your thinking until you're so tired that you have to go to sleep, you'll then go right into bed and fall asleep. Many therapists emphasize the importance of what's called sleep hygiene, which refers to the many different things you do before going to sleep to prepare yourself for sleep. Oftentimes, we can't just fall asleep after a hard day's work. We need what we call a wind down period.
Our bodies work on what's called a circadian rhythm, which is where our bodies are awake during the day when it's light out and asleep at night when it's dark. Similarly, when our environment is bright, our body thinks I should be awake, and therefore as you get closer and closer to sleep time, your room should get progressively darker and darker. When a person is suffering from anxiety, oftentimes they'll have racing thoughts and find it difficult to fall asleep. Conversely, when people are depressed, they'll want to sleep all day long and spend all the time in their bed. Neither of those situations are ideal for sleep. It's really important to get a very steady seven to eight hours of sleep daily, depending on your own cycle.
Sleep is the most important thing for physical and mental health. A lot of times parents will bring in their kids and we'll sit down and talk. They're suffering from many different symptoms of depression and the first thing I ask is: how many hours do you typically sleep at night? Kids need to sleep eight to nine and when you break that down, that means they have to go to bed at like 9 or 10 so they can get up for school in the morning. That's not happening very often. Sometimes they'll look at their fitbits and they say, oh, I guess I slept four hours last night because I was doing homework. Five hours the night before because I had a soccer game and five and a half the day before that because while I was on Facetime with my best friend. What we want to look at is what symptoms that could be causing that looks like depression but might not be. It can cause irritability and fighting with parents. It can cause social withdrawal and being too tired. It can cause poor concentration and doing poorly in school and it can also cause considerable increase in appetite. So we really want to focus on the sleep. It's worth spending a lot of energy, a lot of time on Google trying to sleep more hours, trying to sleep better. Vice versa, we also need to look at if you do have clinical depression, a symptom of that is an inability to sleep. If that's the case and you just can't sleep, you lay there at night, you go to bed at appropriate time and you just lay there - that's the time to seek out a doctor or a therapist to try and get some medication or get some help sleeping because that might really hinder your depression from getting better.
There are a number of very important symptoms to look out for when we're concerned that someone may have depression. Sleep disturbances are a big one, so people will often report that they're not sleeping well at night, specifically that they're waking up early in the morning - what we call early morning waking. That can be a very common sign of depression. Sometimes people will sleep too much - they'll say they can't get out of bed even after sleeping for 14, 15 hours. When you probe a little further, you may find that they're not even sleeping that entire time, but spending a very large amount of time in bed. Interest is another thing we look at with depression. People who used to have a variety of interests who used to love going out doing this and doing that. When they become depressed, they become what we call Anhedonic - meaning they're not interested in anything. Nothing brings them joy. They have no desire to get out. They have no energy to get out. Guilt is another very common symptom of depression. People will often assume that it's their fault that things beyond their control are their fault and take the blame in an unhealthy way for many, many things that are going on in and out of their lives.
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