How to improve sleep habits to support emotional wellness, according to a therapist

Posted by John Duffy, CNN

I recently worked with a 25 year old man struggling with his job. He described difficulty thinking clearly and missing too many days. And his relationship with his girlfriend was almost over due to his admitted neglect. He has been diagnosed with both depression and anxiety and said he no longer felt involved in his life. He had previously been in therapy for a number of years, trying drugs for depression, anxiety, and attention problems. Nothing seemed to work.

I asked a question that I always ask: how do you sleep?

I wasn’t surprised when he told me his sleep pattern was “terrible”. During the week, he slept four to six hours a night, stayed up on social media until 2 a.m. or 3 a.m., or watched a TV show. At weekends he tried to catch up on sleep, but sometimes woke up even more tired.

His sleep patterns were established in childhood and carried over into adult life. As we gradually changed his sleeping habits, added more sleep time during the week, and set sleep and wake times, his symptoms began to go away. Within two months, he reported almost no depression or anxiety. Our primary interventions were to change his sleeping habits.

Sleep and mental health

As it turns out, our sleep patterns correlate very closely with our level of emotional well-being. Adults should get at least seven hours of sleep a night, although 1 in 3 doesn’t get that minimum, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

When I ask my clients to track their rest time, they find they are getting a lot less sleep than they think they are. Our poor sleep patterns can cause the stress that contributes to anxiety, depression, and our ability to concentrate.

Poor sleep also disrupts engagement in activities that support emotional well-being. In fact, adolescents with irregular sleep patterns can experience “social jet lag” as the week progresses on Monday mornings, which puts them behind in both performance and connection with others. This can not only lead to a decline in school performance, but also to delays, missed days and a lack of willingness to learn. I have found that this weakness in performance and willingness also applies to my adult customers.

After all, too many families I’ve worked with experience chaotic evenings, with to-do tasks, homework, or conflicts that last late into the night. Various screens contribute to the hectic, annoying and disturbing sound of many households.

I find that developing better sleep habits is one of the fastest and most effective ways to improve the mental well-being of an individual or a family.

Here are a number of manageable ways to quickly improve the sleep in your home.

Leave the devices behind you

So many of my clients end their day in bed by looking at one screen or another, scrolling through social media, or watching videos. In recent years, smartphone addiction has become a common referral problem in therapy practices.

Dependence on smartphones can lead to disturbed sleep, especially when phones are used later at night, according to a recent study by college students published in Frontiers in Psychiatry.

That’s why I encourage my clients to leave cell phones and other screens out of the bedroom altogether and replace a book, meditation, or soothing music. Mindfulness exercises can also be helpful for children.

I find that this change alone improves sleep quickly and, to some extent, the symptoms of emotional difficulties also go away. Removing loud music, bright lights, and other stimuli from the bedroom will also help.

Develop good sleep hygiene together

I find that families tend to share sleeping habits that they are pretty consistent within a household, for better or for worse. This is a great way to exemplify a good night’s sleep for the rest of your family. If you want your children or spouse to sleep better, set a clear bedtime time for them and yourself. Do the same when you wake up.

Constancy will help all of you develop healthy sleeping habits relatively quickly – and don’t be discouraged if this change takes a little time. Just as it takes time to develop bad sleep habits, it will take time to develop healthier sleep hygiene. Make incremental changes such as: B. Reset your bedtime by 15 to 30 minutes per week. Over time, you will find that you are getting the sleep you need without the frustration of forced, immediate change.

Perhaps the most effective way to improve sleep is to improve your day with exercise. A survey by the National Sleep Foundation found that people who exercise regularly are almost twice as likely to report quality, regular sleep. And people who incorporate exercise into their everyday life find it easier.

Think of sleep as a process that begins at least an hour before you actually go to bed. Create an atmosphere of relaxation in your home. Watch a light episode of a popular family series together. Save yourself some reading time. Dim the lights and separate the late evening from the rest of the day.

These are powerful interventions that help set a tone that suggests sleep and rest.

No time like the present

Many sleep problems arise early in the school year. Since children tend to start the school year with poorly regulated sleep, reducing bedtime in small increments can quickly resolve sleep problems.

If I can get one of my teenage clients to sleep even half an hour more each night, their symptoms will subside and their performance in school, work, exercise, and other after-school activities will noticeably improve.

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My adult customers describe improved sleep as having less depression and anxiety, more clarity at work and more joy in their day.

Make some of these changes now, develop better household sleeping habits, and help manage depression and anxiety for you and your family for a lifetime.

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