Many of my clients tell me they have difficulty sleeping at night when we initially meet. I ask them to consider what habits they may have, both good and bad, that could be affecting their ability to get a good night’s sleep.
It’s important to watch what you put in your body in the hours leading up to bedtime. I advise my clients to not drink caffeinated coffee, tea, or colas, or consume chocolate within ten hours of going to bed. Caffeine is a stimulant that the body requires seven hours to process, on average, before the chemical leaves the body. I explain in counselling that it might be a choice between drinking caffeinated coffee and a getting good night’s sleep.
Frequently, people with sleep difficulties drink alcohol before bed as a way of knocking themselves out. The problem with this approach, however, is that the pattern of brain waves you experience while asleep, after drinking alcohol, are not the same pattern of brain waves required for sleep to be restorative. I advise my clients to cut back to a maximum of two drinks of alcohol a day as a general rule and not to drink alcohol within three hours of going to bed.
Sleep will also almost always improve if the body has a reason to be tired. I advise my clients to get out and exercise every day, no matter how tired they feel. I counsel them however to not exercise too late in the evening because the body needs to be relaxed rather than stimulated to sleep.
I also advise my clients that having a regular routine in the evening before bed helps train the mind and body that sleep is coming. Have a warm bath. Floss your teeth. Do some yoga stretches. Read. Drink mint tea. Pack your lunch for the next day. Brush the dog. By establishing a routine that requires little energy, the body and mind will learn to recognize as a cue that sleep is coming.
Dr. Patricia Turner, Registered Psychologist, Calgary, Alberta
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