I talk to my clients often about their sleeping habits in my Hoboken psychotherapy practice. Getting a good night’s sleep is a big part of our overall health. It is recommended that adults get 7-9 hours of sleep on average. Children, teens, and senior adults should be ideally getting more hours of sleep. Before we can work on feeling less anxious, or less depressed, we need to make sure our basic needs are met. This includes getting enough sleep so that you can be your best self. Some clients find it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep- especially if they’re feeling anxious, stressed, or overwhelmed. Below are some tips I give my clients to help them sleep better.
Anchor Therapy is a counseling center in Hoboken, NJ with psychotherapists specialized to help teens and adults with anxiety, depression, and life transitions.
Cut out caffeine
If you consume a lot of caffeine throughout the day, this could be preventing you from having a good nights sleep. I recommend experimenting in making some changes. For 1 week, write down the amount of caffeine you consume throughout the day. See what patterns emerge and you may be surprised by the actual amount of caffeine you’ve been drinking. For the second week, pick a time of day that you will not consume caffeine after. A good place to start might be to not consume caffeine after 2pm. After you complete this, if this has not changed your sleeping habits, then try to fully cut caffeine out of your diet for the 3rd week. Then you can truly see how much consuming caffeine throughout the day is impacting your sleep.
Have a bedtime routine
There should be a time between watching TV/scrolling on instagram and going straight to bed. You want to have a bedtime routine set in place that readies your brain to slow down for the day so that you can start to relax as you physically prepare for bed. This may include: brushing your teeth, getting a drink of water, shutting off lights, washing your face, putting pajamas on, reading a book, meditating etc.
Stop taking naps
I’m all for taking a nap if you are physically and emotionally exhausted. But if you’re napping regularly and then having trouble sleeping at night then you need to stop napping. By napping you are confusing your sleep routine in a way that your body isn’t sure what time it should be going into a deep state of relaxation. Think of when you travel and you’re jetlagged. The best way to get over jetlag is to adjust your body by waiting to fall asleep until nighttime at your new location.
Exercise (But not before bed!)
Exercising is great for your health and you should exercise if you’re working towards feeling like your best self. If you’re having a hard time falling asleep, ask yourself what time do you exercise? Is it right before bed? If so, I would change the time you workout since it can give you too much energy right before bed. You want to have some relaxation time before you try to fall asleep.
Create a routine
As I mentioned before, creating routines around your sleep schedule is really important. You should also create a routine with your bedtime and waking up time. This may look different on weekdays vs. the weekends or days off from work/school. But to the best of your ability, you want to try to go to bed around the same time every night and wake up around the same time every morning. If you’re having a hard time sleeping, creating this sleep routine should help you.
Remind yourself the goal is to relax
When we can’t fall asleep right away, we start to worry that we aren’t getting sleep and will be exhausted/miserable the next day. I would challenge this thinking to reframe your thought to tell yourself that the goal during the nighttime is to relax. You want your mind and body relaxed so that you will feel recharged the next day. You will probably eventually fall asleep, but the real goal is to relax. You don’t want to have a clock near you that you’re checking constantly if you can’t fall asleep. Rather, you want to focus on physically relaxing your body (a guided meditation can help with this- see number 8) and quieting your mind. If you’re having anxious, worried thoughts then you want to quiet those thoughts so that you’re only focusing on relaxing your body.
Use Your Cellphone less
There are some studies out there that show you shouldn’t be looking at screens an hour before bed. I can see this being helpful, but I don’t know if it impacts everyone the same way. I think it matters less about the screen in your face and more about what you’re looking at. If you’re texting with someone late at night about something that gets you emotional then this will definitely have an impact on your sleep. But if you’re reading a book on your kindle app that helps you relax and you soon after fall asleep then I think that’s okay. The time before bed should be seen as a time to prepare yourself mentally and physically by starting to relax. So the next time you’re getting ready for bed, ask yourself, “Is this helping me relax?” When it comes to our phones, you also don’t want distractions when you’re sleeping. I recommend turning your phone on silent or on do not disturb mode. This way, if someone calls you twice then your phone will ring as it may be an emergency. Otherwise, you shouldn’t be waking up to texts or emails coming in the middle of the night.
Try Guided Meditation
This is one thing I highly recommend to all of my clients who have trouble sleeping or relaxing their mind in general. Guided meditation is different than regular meditation because it is someone guiding you, and speaking to you, constantly throughout your meditation. This person should be helping remind you to let any thoughts pass on by and to refocus on what they’re telling you do to relax. Usually it is imagining that you are somewhere relaxing such as a beach. Or they might have you slowly relax each part of your body from head to toe. You can find free guided meditations if you search for them in the free Podcast app or on Youtube. It may take a few tries to find ones you enjoy.
*Please note that I am not trained in giving any medication or supplement advice. Please discuss these options with your medical doctor before taking anything.
Sometimes when your insomnia is bad, you need extra help to get your mind to become drowsy and slow down. Some herbal supplements, or over-the-counter drugs, you can take include Benadryl, Melatonin, and CBD. There are also sleeping medications that you could get prescribed to you by a medical professional. No matter what you take though, be mindful that you may become dependent on it to fall asleep. You want to ideally use these supplements or drugs as needed. Please consult with a medical professional before taking any supplements or medications.
If you have experienced a hard time falling asleep I suggest trying one of these ideas at a time. Then you can see what works for you. It also may be helpful to see a mental health counselor to help you sort through your stress, anxiety, or whatever is keeping you up at night. If you have any questions or are interested in counseling to help with your sleep, then fill out the form below to get in touch.
Feel free to leave a comment below if you have any other ideas on what has helped you with sleep.
Courtney Glashow, LCSW
is a licensed psychotherapist practicing in Hoboken, New Jersey. She specializes in helping teens and adults with anxiety, depression, and life transitions through counseling. Courtney can help NY or NJ residents through telehealth (video/phone) therapy sessions as well.