I heard your Therapy Thursday show on TMS with your brother Scott and that caveman Brian, about the subject of sleep. There’s a huge struggle on the other side of the bed every night to fall asleep. I played the episode to my mate, but alas there is a real resistance to the idea of not looking at her iPhone until the wee hours of the night, before falling asleep. If you could make a list of your sleep hygiene procedures it would be greatly appreciated.
Dear Sherman –
Oh man, I love sleep. Don’t you? Most of us do, or at least most of us need more sleep than we are getting. At its most fundamental, sleep is a crucial key to our functioning as humans. Ask anyone who is struggling with their mental well-being and nearly every single one of them will have some type of problem with sleep. They might sleep too much. Maybe they can’t fall asleep or stay asleep throughout the night. Possibly they wake up at 4 am in a panicky sweat. Even after a good 8 hours, they still don’t feel rested. Sometimes sleep disturbances are a symptom of a mental health problem and sometimes, not getting good sleep just might create a mental health crisis. Occasionally sleep challenges may be a symptom of an underlying health problem and nearly always, long-term insomnia and sleep disturbance will lead to health problems.
It’s a big deal.
Technology in our hands has added another layer to our collective sleeping challenges. We can’t sleep, so we distract our minds to calm them down and then hopefully get sleepy enough to pass out. However, falling asleep to the blue light of your iPhone or iPad or TV, in fact, delays the release of melatonin, the hormone that signals your body to go to sleep. When melatonin is not released at the right times and in the right doses, the depth and duration of our sleep is affected and we don’t feel refreshed or alert the next day. The thing your partner is using to distract herself to become sleepy is actually reducing her ability to get overall good sleep which creates a vicious cycle that starts over the very next day.
In regards to your partner’s sleep hygiene, let’s just all admit that it is incredibly tricky to motivate a Facebook/CandyCrush or Instagram/Netflix addicted partner to change their nightly routine because it will turn into nagging pretty darn quick. Plus you are telling them that what they “believe” about their late night habit to be wrong. They “believe” it helps them unwind and go to sleep. Not sure if you’ve been alive in the past few years, but convincing someone to “believe” anything different than what they already think is right, is not easily achieved. So we won’t even try it. Instead, let’s make this a game. Ask your partner to join you for a one-week experiment – a sleep hygiene experiment if you will. Do it together, cause you aren’t perfect either. 😉
Every night around the same time, for one week do the following: 1.5 – 2 hours before sleepy time, turn off all sources of blue light. TV, phones, iPads, computers, etc. Dim the lights in the house, light a candle, read a physical book or magazine, drink some (caffeine free) tea, maybe take a hot bath, and relax. Does this sound like torture for you too? Good. That’s a sign you both need to try this. Make a rule for this week that you both vouch to follow. Your bed is used for sleeping and sex. NOTHING else. No reading, no electronics, no games of scrabble or whatever else people do. Now for one or two of the nights, try the following bedtime yoga routine together. She’s going to think you’ve lost your mind. Another good sign. She’ll be less defensive cause it’s so out of character for you too. If either of you is struggling to “turn your brain off” once you are lying down. Try listening to a sleep story. They are magic.
Basically, create one week of an optimal sleeping experience for both of you. It’s not easy to change bad sleep habits but it’s worth a simple week testing out some good sleep hygiene in order to experience the potential difference on both sides of the bed.