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Pillars To Mental Health: Sleep

Oh sweet rest! Why is it so hard to obtain when you need it the most? After a full day of actively managing and coping, or flat out avoiding your concerns, your resources are sapped. There’s nothing left to manage wandering thoughts. As you relax, these unresolved thoughts come to mind making it near impossible to fall asleep. A solid sleep hygiene schedule will significantly help you!

There has been some fascinating research that suggests sleep helps to increase maturity, learning, and executive functioning (focus and concentration) in adolescents. And yet, most of our teens are chronically sleep deprived. Sleep is critical to resetting your mind and resting your muscles. Keep in mind that sleep is very behavioral and it will take time to see improvements. But each night you use your new routine, your thoughts will ease and you will fall asleep faster.

  • Shut down those electronics! There has been a world of research indicating that the light from electronics interferes with your brain’s natural release of melatonin. Specifically, blue light. Even if you filter out blue light, electronics serve as our greatest distractions from facing and managing issues. They facilitate avoidance, which prolongs healthy coping. So shut them our electronics 30 minutes before you plan on going to bed! Falling asleep to a TV on is strongly discouraged.

  • Establish a routine: Take a shower, drink some herbal tea, journal, listen to calming music, and/or read a book. This takes the most amount of time to take effect as your body learns to accept this as a new cue to shut down and relax.

  • Make sure you feel safe and secure in your home. I have many clients who talk about fears of being robbed, stalked, or harmed. If you’ve checked the house and feel safe, you are less likely to ruminate about it while you are trying to sleep. It’s okay to be fearful of the dark. Leaving a light on makes it less likely for an intruder to enter your home because they assume you are still awake.

  • Get ready for the next day. Make decisions about what you’re going to wear, pack your backpack or lunch bag, and get organized. You will not ruminate as much in bed if you are set and ready for the next day.

  • Write out a list of what needs to be done tomorrow. Keep this list next to your bed in case you recall something while trying to fall asleep. We tend to hold on to issues out of fear that we will forget. If it’s written down, your mind will not hold on to it.

  • Pick a bedtime and stick to it. Our body temperature begins to decline around 10 p.m. This is a natural signal that it’s time to shut down, get cozy, and fall asleep. However, if you have to be up at 5 a.m. you may want to consider heading to bed earlier to capitalize on that 6 to 8 hours of rest.

  • Some people find exercise before bed helps them to fall asleep faster. This is particularly true for adolescents.

  • Mediation. This is certainly not for everyone. But it has amazing healing results and provides you the opportunity to face your concerns and introduce self-compassion. You can also use guided relaxation or guided imagery if you have a hard time sitting in absolute silence. Check out apps like Calm and Headspace for some decent guides.

  • As you are trying to fall asleep and find yourself thinking, try using a mantra. Find something that works best for you. For example, “Rest the mind. Rest the body. And the rest will follow.” As you take yourself through this example, think about emptying your mind, relaxing your body, and slipping into unconsciousness. When your mind is bored, it will give up and rest.

  • Stay away from sleep aids as much as possible. Melatonin is an exception as it is a natural supplement that can help you fall asleep. It will not keep you asleep but it can help you relax. Adolescents are naturally deficient in this natural hormone, which is why they are often up until 1 a.m.

If you are still struggling with adequate sleep after trying this guide for two weeks, then check in with your primary care doctor to rule out a medical cause for your sleep concerns.

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