Sleep Hygiene and Recovery

It seems like the last thing people think about when it comes to wellness is sleep. With everyone trying to squeeze the last second of each day to be productive and catch up on whatever deadline they believe they have.  Some of those deadlines are self-imposed; part of what we believe makes us more productive; hence thinking about sleep hygiene and being asleep seems to resonate as unproductive time. 

Sleep is one thing that we can do for our health, that will not cost us a dime. For people in recovery, this is of utmost importance. But how do we develop good sleep hygiene? Having spent most of my professional life working and managing residential programs, it pains me to think about the amount of medication prescribed for people in residential programs to sleep.  Most programs do not devote enough time to provide psychoeducation on developing good sleep hygiene skills; which is a more sustainable intervention, than another medication to take; that makes someone dependent on a substance to induce sleep.

So where do you start? For some people, it takes as little as 2 weeks to create a new habit; for others close to a year. When it comes to an activity that would not cost you money, makes you feel better, helps your brain recover, what is there to lose? 

First, is establishing where you are. What time do you currently sleep? How much sleep do you get? And what do you do in bed? Our natural inclinations to either sleep late or sleep early are something to consider. I am one of those people, who have always considered myself a night owl. Sleeping before 11 pm is almost impossible for me. But when I examined what I have been doing, I am not quite a night owl. I get home early and I try to relax at night watching TV; thinking that watching TV is a relaxing activity, which is not. Aside from the fact that my big screen TV bombards me with so much light, some shows or news are activating. Another problem that I have is my habit of taking my work to bed. Falling asleep working on my laptop or IPad. Now that I know my biggest culprits, I can make changes.

First, I need to take everything out of my bedroom that is work-related. I have to stop sleeping with my work. This should include charging my cellphones, my IPad and every device in another room. Next, I need to slowly wean myself from watching too much TV. I can start by giving myself up to 10 pm, instead of the usual 11 pm. With these two simple steps, I would be able to add one hour to my sleep, and slowly I can continue to increase my sleep time to the recommended 8 hours.

Your regimen may be different, but the steps of assessing where you are, so you can make the little changes are the same. It is hard to change what you do not know. It may take me the next two weeks to add an hour to my sleep; it is for me a good start.

Melinda Drake, LCSW

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