Keep Exploring

A Therapist's Guide to Better Sleep

Coping Skills, Therapist Guide
7 min read

Have you ever heard of sleep hygiene?

We often think of the word “hygiene” and immediately relate it to physical cleanliness. However, sleep hygiene is not about how clean you are but more about a routine and an intentional rhythm one sets in order to increase efficacy, impact, and overall wellness in their life. Sleep is a gift of rest, recharge, and reset we give to our bodies much like the charge we give to devices. You can think of “Sleep Hygiene” as Healthy Sleep Habits, or practical, applicable, actionable steps one can take to get better sleep.

The goal of sleep hygiene is so much more than developing a sleep routine, getting to bed early, or adding another task to the unending list of get-well-quick schemes. It is the intentional choice to put yourself, your rest, and your wellness as a priority, so you can take care of your most important asset, your health, and then the other things like family, faith, friends, finances. This is the key to overall wellness.

Here is what you can do to improve your sleep:

Cultivate a Wind-Down Routine - if you have kids, this is a given, you know no water after a certain time to prevent accidents. Well, us larger humans are no different. Our brains are wired for consistency and routine. 

The first thing we want to do is curate the sleep experience, the same way we curate other experiences in our life, to prepare us for good sleep.

When you think of Wind Down, your mind may go to things like alcohol or removing all responsibility from your plate for a moment. While that may seem like a quick fix for a stressful day, it may not be setting you up for a successful, restful night of sleep. Let’s face it, as a generation, we are constantly wound-up and operating on overload. In comparison to previous generations and times, we are more accessible than ever and the notifications never stop. If you are anything like me, a work in progress, getting to bed, falling asleep, and staying asleep are three different and gargantuan tasks. So for those are struggling to get restful sleep, I have broken this all the way down to a granular, step-by-step, level.

Let’s get into the basic of this wind (not WINE) down, routine:

1- Decide where you want to start. Here are some examples of behavioral changes you can make: turn off your phone alerts, no screen time, go to bed around the same time, use ambient noise to your advantage, etc.

2- Do what feels manageable. For some this might mean picking one thing to work on while others may be ready to make a few changes off the bat.

3- Identify the most natural start for your sleep routine. Start with the path of least resistance. 

Here’s an example of those steps put into play from my own life: 

First I identify the behavioral change I want to address: ‘NO screen time before bed!’ This one is my personal nemesis as a mother of a 1-year-old and owner of several businesses. To make a change to the amount of screen time, I start by setting a sleep time (bedtime) for myself (based on when I naturally get sleepy), and then determine how long before this time I will stop using my phone. It’s important to first assess what feels like a doable goal for yourself and is reasonable given your responsibilities. Don’t try to go from 0 to 100 overnight or you will set yourself up for disappointment.

Here’s a breakdown of an implementation plan that you can use over the course of a week:

Sunday: plan 3 days that you want to start cultivating your wind-down routine (e.g. Monday, Wednesday, Sunday) for this week.

Monday: start small (not 2 hours before bed) maybe 30 minutes before bed you put your phone down and do not pick it up again until the morning. In that 30 minutes, you wind down, take your shower or bath, and play some relaxing music. Personally, I love putting my towel in the dryer before my nighttime bath as well as adding some essential oils on it like, sleep or lavender. I also love this mix before getting into bed.

Tuesday: pick one part that worked from your new sleep routine and repeat just that part again- with or without your phone. We are building habits, not prisons!

Wednesday: repeat the full routine from Monday, and tweak it to make more sense for YOU, and where you PRESENTLY are. This can look like decreasing the time or changing up the order of your wind-down. Remember this is an experimental process, more like a work of art on canvas, not a permanent tattoo. 

Thursday: Do more of that feel-good thing from Monday or Wednesday, the part(s) that felt like a reward.

Friday & Saturday: Rinse and repeat Thursday.

Sunday: Repeat the sleep routine from Wednesday, again modifying based on what you found most helpful and how you’re feeling in this moment.

Continue until the feel-good habits come more automatically to you as the need to disconnect, and your phone naturally go down. This will take time, so be patient with yourself! Remember, even if you only get 10 minutes of no screen time before bed, by the end of one week you will have decreased your screen time by 30 minutes and that is worth celebrating!

Some additional tools for sleep hygiene include:

  • Use ambient noise to your advantage.
    • The National Sleep Foundation says it helps with getting to and staying asleep.
  • Find your favorite sleep smell.
    • There is no right or wrong way for this, find what works and stick to it. Lavender is a very common and popular choice.
  • Try a sleep-friendly snack.
    • Cherries for example are a great source of melatonin.
  • Take a short nap.
    • Try to keep naps to 20-30 minutes long.
  • Maximize your sleep quality.
    • Measure what you are doing with your sleep hygiene and what does and does not work. There is no one-size fits all. 
  • Use your bed for 2 things ONLY: Sleep and sex
    • Make a point to reserve your bed for only 2 activities (i.e. no more watching TV in bed). This will help develop a stronger association between your bed and sleep.

---

About the Author: Jessica F.B. Jefferson, LCSW, is a therapist and the Founder & CEO of Soul Wellness, Social Support, & Therapeutic Services. Jessica is a wife, mother, entrepreneur, ministry worker, transformative speaker, and global wellness advocate. She leverages her multifaceted experience to empower others to live and lead well in every facet of life. Her mission is to empower individuals to show up in full strength and brilliance. To learn more, view additional content Jessica has created, or to get in touch, visit her Frame profile here