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By Kim King, Ph.D.
While we can all struggle with the occasional sleepless night, chronic insomnia can affect mood, wellness, relationships, and job performance. Fortunately, there are actions you can take to break the cycle of sleeplessness and reduce dependence on sleep medications.
1. Think positively about your sleep.
It’s easy to become frightened about losing control of your sleep, but worrying can actually make insomnia worse. Instead of “What if I can’t sleep tonight?” try a reassuring thought like, “This is only temporary,” or “I can practice a breathing exercise to relax.”
2. Wake up at the same time every day and go to bed at the same time every night.
Yes, this includes weekends! This may be a bit of a challenge in the beginning, but over time this routine will help you regulate your sleep.
3. Incorporate physical activity in your daily routine.
Moderate activity such as walking briskly can improve sleep. Try to exercise during the daytime or early evening, as exercising right before bed can be energizing and may interfere with sleep.
4. Decrease stress.
Take a 10 to 20 minute break each day to sit quietly and breathe deeply or listen to a guided meditation. Headspace.com or Calm.com are two popular apps for meditations. If your daily routine feels rushed or stressful, look for ways to create breathing room. Challenge the belief that you have to do it all. One way to do this is to ask yourself, “What can I give myself permission to let go of today?”
5. Wind down before bed.
Unplug from handheld devices and screens before bedtime as the blue light can interfere with sleep. Try coloring, listening to music, reading, gentle stretching, or writing in a gratitude journal.
If after practicing these steps you are still struggling with insomnia, you can seek professional treatment such as CBT-I (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia.) This type of short term structured treatment, outlined in Dr. Gregg Jacobs’ book, Say Good Night to Insomnia, has been shown to help 90% of clients to reduce or eliminate the use of sleep medications.
Dr. King is a health psychologist specializing in stress-related medical conditions such as insomnia.
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