Anxiety keeps me from sleeping at all (hello 3 hours a night) and depression makes me sleep non stop because I cannot get myself out of bed. A good way to help alleviate both of these is to work on sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene was difficult to adjust, it takes a long time to see results and required me to build a new habit. Now that I have been following the same routine for a few months my sleep has improved dramatically.
One of the first steps to good sleep hygiene is creating a routine before bed that you can do every single night. Children like to have a routine before bed because it winds them down and signals its time for bed, not surprisingly adults do well with the same thing. Since you need to do it every night I would not suggest using this time to add in a longer self care step. While it is nice to imagine a night time routine that is luxurious and a treat, the bigger the routine the more difficult it is going to be to do. I keep it simple with a few steps, shower, skincare, tooth care, and gratitude list. Every single night before bed I make sure I shower, take care of my skin and teeth (ADLs) before I get into bed. Once in bed I do a very quick gratitude list to put my mind in a good mood (less worry prone) right before bed. Lastly I put a night time meditation to put me to sleep. I make sure I do this every night before bed no matter where I am or how late I stayed up. Even if I went out with my friends and didn’t get home until 2am and all I can imagine is crawling into bed, I make sure I finish this routine first. Just like Pavlov’s dog who learns to drool at the sound of a bell, your body and brain learn to shut down for the night with the same pattern.
Your bed should be a sacred place for sleep. It should be comfortable, relaxing and exclusively associated with sleeping. It is super tempting, especially living with roommates, to hang out in your room and on your bed to get some alone time, eat, and binge Netflix. However keeping your bed reserved to just sleep keeps your brain associating your bed with actually sleeping.
Additionally, one study suggested keeping your room between 65-67 degrees F for ideal sleep, one of my therapist even suggested 62 to prevent nightmares (it worked but oh man is it cold). I thought this wouldn’t make a difference but it honestly made a huge change in my sleep. When I wasn’t overheating throughout the night my tossing and turning and interrupted sleep decreased significantly. In the winter I keep my room around 62 but in the summer I only drop to 67 to help save on AC.
Sleep should really only happen at night and between 7.5-9 hours at least 4 nights a week. I love naps, my depression loves naps even more than I do, but this midday sleep can totally wreck your sleep at night. Try not napping for more than 20 mins a day for 4-6 weeks while you put this routine in place. It feels really difficult at first to forego a nap that has become a part of your routine, but it feels a lot better in the long run to have solid restful sleep at night. Don’t overdo it and sleep more than 9 hours a night, and try not to deprive yourself sleeping less than 7.5. Play around with the time until you find what feels right for you. 7.5-8.5 hours a night works best for me, without an alarm I can sleep close to 10 but I feel extra lethargic and prone to depression when I sleep more than 8.5. So I try to ignore the temptation of staying in bed forever and wake up a little earlier.
I still have some restless nights, I still accidentally fall asleep cuddling my dogs midday, and sometimes I forget to set an alarm and sleep for eleven hours. I try to be kind to myself when this happens and remember that sleep hygiene is part of a long journey, not about being perfect. Good luck building your own routine and let me know how it works! I love to hear new suggestions so make sure you share what you discover playing around with a routine.