I’m a small-town California girl turned mental health therapist. Favorite things: babies (but don’t have my own!), comfy pants, and taking too many pictures. I'm all about realistic self-care, mental health for everyone, and personal growth even if you hate that phrase (cause I do!).
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As someone who has dealt with anxiety for most of my life, getting enough sleep has been a battle for years. I suspect I’m not the only one that finds getting enough sleep a struggle. Actually, I know I’m not because the research shows that 1 in 3 American adults don’t get enough sleep. Yikes. I want to share some of the things that I’ve learned along the way, both professionally and personally.
It’s important to look at this emotionally, physically, psychologically, and environmentally. Over the next few posts I’ll cover the following about getting good zzz’s:
I know a lot of you just rolled your eyes at that one. I get it––I’m annoyed too by just typing it. I’ve resisted this for years because it just sounds like someone telling you to work out more. And we don’t need any more of that, especially as women…
But here’s the thing––our bodies are made to move and be active. The problem is that many of us spend our days sitting at work or sitting at school, so we have to intentionally find ways to increase our activity. If you do have a more active job (think teacher, nurse, child care, manual labor, etc), pay attention to how you physically feel at the end of the day. Does your body feel tired? If not, consider adding in some cardio to help expend energy and help you sleep better.
If you have a disability or chronic illness that makes it difficult to get exercise, consider gentle movement such as walking, light weight lifting or plyometric movements. Always be sure to check with your doctor about your physical activity.
Not only does exercise help get out energy that your body needs to release, we all know it usually helps with anxiety and mood. That’s a plus, since anxiety often makes sleep more difficult.
Get creative with what counts as exercise––go on a walk with a coworker during lunch, find a pilates or yoga or cardio video on youtube, join a sports team, shoot hoops at a nearby park, go on a run around the block, stop by a park on your way home from work to go on a walk. How about activities that you loved as a kid? Think riding a bike, rollerblading, tennis, gymnastics, dance, skateboarding, jumping on the trampoline, swimming or swinging. You may find great joy in doing these activities as an adult!
Breathing deserves its own entire blog post, but for now I’ll just say that taking a few moments during the day to take deep breaths helps reduce stress and anxiety during the day, making it that much easier to fall asleep at night.
There is a good amount of research that shows melatonin can be helpful for shortening the amount of time it takes to fall asleep (but not as helpful for keeping you asleep (1, 2). The typical recommended dose is 1-3mg. A common sense approach is to start small, check for side effects, and increase as needed. I have been told by a neurologist who specializes in sleep disorders to take it about 1-2 hours before bedtime, so take that for what it’s worth. Since melatonin is a supplement naturally occuring in the body, there is no evidence that you can take too much (toxicity). However, see this helpful list of ways melatonin might negatively interact with other drugs or health conditions.
For me personally, melatonin is pretty hit or miss. When I first took it, I felt significantly sleepy fairly quickly. I still sometimes take it, even though I’m not sure how much it helps, since it’s low risk, low side effects.
There’s evidence that magnesium helps with getting to sleep faster, quality of sleep, anxiety, and mood. This helpful article offers a good overview with high quality sources. The recommended dose is about 300mg for women.
A hot cup of chamomile tea has shown to increase sleepiness. My personal favorite is the “Well Rested” tea from Trader Joe’s. Many tea companies have their own blends to help with sleep.
CBD is the cannabidiol chemical extracted from the cannabis plant that does not include the THC, the psychoactive part of the plant (that causes a “high”). This article has a helpful overview, recommendations for use, and long list of research references.
The warm water is a great way to relax, reduce stress, and reconnect with yourself. Try adding epsom salt to soothe and calm muscles naturally or essential oils like lavender or chamomile to increase relaxation.
Being hungry makes it much more difficult to fall asleep. Evidence shows that good bedtime snacks are complex carbs (rice, sweet potatoes), turkey (tryptophan!), or good fats (think nut butters or even ice cream) are all helpful for sleep (1, 2, 3).
There are two types of sleep medications: ones you can get without a prescription (over the counter, OTC), and ones that require a prescription. I have a word of caution for both.
OTC sleep aids, other than melatonin or magnesium, are essentially anti-histamines, which are also used for allergies. These medications usually cause drowsiness the next day, so much so that it affects basic functions––not good. There is strong evidence that prolonged use of anti-histamines increases risk of dementia. It can be considered for short term sleep problems, but is not recommended for long-term sleep support. This article helps explain these medications.
Prescription sleep medications are either benzodiazepines or non-benzodiazepines. Both categories are high risk of both physical dependence and psychological dependence, and they actually negatively affect sleep quality. Therefore, these medications should only be considered for short-term or occasional use.
I personally advise strong caution when considering these medications and to look into all the risks (which prescribers are not always clear about). Here’s a good place to start as an overview of the different kinds of drugs and what the research has shown.
Ok! We covered a lot. I need a nap. Which of these tips and ideas for getting to sleep earlier and sleeping better have you tried? Also, check out my free bedtime planner to help you create your own personalized bedtime routine!
Stay tuned for Part 2 – Setting the Stage For Sleep!
Not sure where to start? Start by using this free night routine planner.
by Kylie |
October 12, 2018
© Tend and Mend, Kylie Bennett 2019.
I'm Kylie. I’m a small-town California girl turned mental health therapist. Favorite things: babies (but don’t have my own!), comfy pants, and taking too many pictures. I'm all about realistic self-care, mental health for everyone, and personal growth even if you hate that phrase (cause I do!).