This post cover topics related to sleep including sunlight, exercise, how to manage worries, and establishing a bedtime routine.
Just like plants, people need sunlight! Sunlight serves as a powerful cue in setting a regular circadian rhythm that will help us get more quality sleep at night. Approximately 90% of people who are blind report having sleep problems. 90%! The reason for this is because they are unable to use sunlight to set or reset their circadian rhythms. Sleep problems are also more common in people who spend the majority of their time inside. Get outside as often, and for as long as possible during the day! The exposure to sunlight will help you establish a regular circadian rhythm and sleep better at night.
Exercise is beneficial for sleep because it helps you fall asleep more easily, and sleep more deeply. The time of day that you exercise matters when it comes to sleep. It is best to exercise in the late afternoon or early evening if you want it to help with your sleep. The reason for this is because when you exercise it raises your body’s temperature which then subsequently drops four to six hours after your exercise. This drop in temperature a few hours after you exercise is what helps with sleep.
What if you cannot exercise due to medical problems or physical limitations? Well you can actually trick your body by taking a hot bath two to four hours before bed. The hot, and we are talking at least 102 degrees Fahrenheit, bath can increase your body temperature in a similar manner as exercising and you will then have the body temperature drop that can help facilitate sleep.
Have you ever had the experience when you go to bed that your mind seems to fill with worries that keep you awake? This experience is not uncommon especially when we are faced with a stressful situation. If this experience, however, becomes a habit then we need to consider how to break this habit.
One way to break bedtime worrying is by scheduling a specific worry time during the day. Scheduling this worry time helps you get the worries out of the way before you go to bed. You can set aside anywhere from 5 minutes to 30 minutes depending on how much worry you have. Setting aside this time allows you to control when you worry and also moves that worry time from your bed to another setting. Whenever you decide to worry, make sure it is not in your bed as you do not want to set up conditioned insomnia. Choose another room where you can worry to your hearts desire.
As you worry it is also beneficial to write your worries down, possibly put them into categories, and start to identify one or two solutions for each. I recommend this frequently to my clients. By writing down your worries they somehow become more manageable. When they are running free in our minds they tend to ruminate over and over with no end in site. Writing them down helps to make them finite, concrete and sometimes more solvable. Another idea is to keep a journal or paper by your bedside so that if you do wake up in the middle of the night worrying, write it down. I do this myself and it helps to just get the worries out of my head and someplace else. Then, in the morning my worries are there and often feel more manageable once I am alert and thinking more clearly.
In the evening, before our formal bedtime routine, there should be some downtime before bed. This downtime should be used to relax, watch television, read, do anything you like to do to unwind. This winding down time is important because it cues to our bodies that sleep is coming soon. Stressful experiences during the evening can disrupt nighttime sleep so it is helpful to think of the evening as a time for calm. Get family conflicts or evening work done as early as possible as to not let those stressors impinge on your sleep. Often in the evening we are less apt at coping with stress so better to leave these things for the morning and focus your attention to the transition from alertness to sleep.
When you actually start to get ready for bed it is beneficial to have a bedtime routine. As parents we set these types of routines up for our children. We give them baths, read them stories, and kiss them goodnight. These routines that we establish for our children provide environmental cues that it is time for sleep. Often times, we as adults, need these routines even more than our kids! For some reason we do not think of this, however, and then wonder why we cannot go from sixty mph to sleep in 4 seconds flat!
At bedtime we need to have environmental cues as well. Think about your bedtime routine, does it help you relax and get ready for sleep or you do you often find yourself having different routines each night, or falling asleep on the couch, waking, and then laying sleepless for two hours before you can return to that state of sleep? If this is your experience think more about how to adjust your bedtime routine in order to establish the environmental cues that will help you ease into sleep. Repeating a regular bedtime routine helps you adjust your thoughts, emotions, and level of arousal so that you are better prepared for sleep. In addition, a bedtime routine in which you are mindful of your actions, versus thinking about other things, helps you further relax and get into the mindset for sleep.
Get some sunshine like a plant, exercise in the evening (or take a hot bath), move worry time out of your bed, and develop a bedtime routine! We will all be getting better sleep and managing our mental health more effectively in no time! Until next time… Dr. B
Perl, J. (1993). Sleep Right in Five Nights: A clear and effective guide for conquering insomnia. New York, NY: William Morrow and Company, Inc.
Danforth, M. (2018). Treating Insomnia: Evidence-based strategies to help your clients sleep. Presentation, New Jersey.