Your Bed is for Sleep and Nothing But Sleep!

I used to live in a small downtown apartment that forced me to decide: Will I get a dining table or a sofa with a coffee table? I chose the latter, with some unintended consequences. I found myself eating my meals while sitting on the sofa and naturally, turned on the TV as well. Fast forward 6 months later, I had gained about 10 pounds. What happened?

Cognitive theory describes human minds as unstoppable association machines. In my case, every time I sat on the sofa or watched TV, my body would associate these as cues for eating: I would actually start to feel hungry watching the news! To put an end to this, I purchased a bar stool to force myself to eat at the kitchen counter instead.

Your bed is another piece of furniture that is very susceptible to associations, both positive and negative. If most of your experiences in bed involve pleasure, relaxation and rest, you will probably have lots of positive associations every time to lie down in bed. However, if you have a habit of doing any of the following in bed, the associations might be pretty unhelpful towards sleep:

  • Watch TV

  • Talk on the phone

  • Argue with your partner

  • Pay bills

  • Read

  • Worry about what you have to do tomorrow

Some of the activities listed above are more obvious in how much negativity they can potentially generate. Truthfully, by the time a person has trouble sleeping, ANY association other than being asleep while in bed is likely unhelpful. While it may seem extreme, if you are someone who has trouble falling or staying asleep, I challenge you to spend one entire month doing NOTHING BUT SLEEPING in bed. At the same time, DO NOT SLEEP ANYWHERE OTHER THAN IN YOUR BED. Sleep specialists call this reset of associations “stimulus control therapy.” It fits into the larger rule that helps most people: Keep it simple! The results may surprise you.

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Worry, Worry, Worry….and more Worry….

The holidays may be a time for many Americans to enjoy time off from work to enjoy food and festivities in the company of family and friends. But for many, it can be a time of immense stress. From stretched finances to strained relationships, feelings of coming up short on career goals or job uncertainty in the upcoming year, the holiday season is can fill your mind with worries that can sabotage your sleep. Here are 3 tips to bring your life back to center:

1)      Give Worry the time it deserves.

It’s no use to deny it: Worry needs attention. Rather than allowing Worry to nag you throughout your day and invade your nights, schedule a time every day to do nothing but deal with Worry. Whether you take 15 minutes daily to write down every single thing weighing on your mind or spend the time to knock out one thing on your to-do list, set aside a limited amount of time daily that's well outside of your sleep time towards Worry.

2)      Enough is enough.

You are not likely to get everything done, find a solution to every problem, or find all the information you wish to know…ever. There is a difference between Productive Worry (“OK, I’m remembering to do something about it.”) and Unproductive Worry (“Oh my goodness! There’s so much I can’t control! What’ll I do?? I can’t deal with this! This is terrible! Let me go over it again….”).  Try your best to stay in the zone of Productive Worry by doing a reality check on your Worry. Once you’ve done what you have agreed to do for the day, move on with the rest of your day.

3)      Give yourself the time YOU deserve.

Unproductive Worry is often a sign that you are not taking good enough care of yourself. This happens a lot during the holidays because so much of your attention may be on doing things for others. How much time are you giving yourself to quiet your mind and slow down? Here is a test: Sit in a quiet room and count very slowly: 1-2-3-4. 1-2-3-4. Exhale completely-2-3-4…., Hold-2-3-4…, then slowly Inhale-2-3-4, Exhale-2-3-4,…Hold-2-3-4, Inhale-2-3-4 (repeat for 10 minutes).  If slowing down your breathing is difficult to do or makes you feel light-headed, your body has NOT been relaxing properly. Create a daily habit of another healthy relaxation activity such as this breathing retraining exercise, yoga stretches or singing in the shower (not drinking alcohol or smoking an extra cigarette!).  

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3 Lies that Keep Insomnia in Place

Few things are less frustrating than putting considerable effort into doing everything right and still not getting the results you deserve. Are you telling yourself the following lies about sleep and inadvertently making the situation worse?

1)      “I am an insomniac.”

Insomnia is a fairly common problem that affects 30 million Americans, according to the Institute of Medicine. Aside from a minority of people with medical conditions from a young age, the vast majority of us were once good sleepers. The moment you take on the label of “Insomniac,” you begin to tell yourself that this situation cannot change. You may even believe you are special because of the insomnia. Do NOT make your current struggle a part of your personal identity.

2)      “If I don’t sleep well tonight, my day will be a disaster.”

It’s true: sleeping poorly night after night can feel awful. However, the vast majority of people who don’t sleep well are able to get through their day without anything catastrophic happening because of their insomnia. (If this were not the case, there would be far more car accidents on any given morning!) When you tell yourself that a bad day is an inescapable outcome of a poor night’s sleep, you are setting yourself up to fail. Catch yourself and tell yourself something closer to the truth: “If I don’t sleep well tonight, I’ll probably feel tired tomorrow morning and afternoon. But it’s going to be ok. If I just hang in there, being that tired increases my changes of sleeping better tomorrow night.”

3)      “I can’t ___________ because of my insomnia.”

You might be filling in the blank with all sorts of trade-offs like “play with my kids,” “go to the gym,” “work towards my promotion,” or “make love with my partner.” You will not increase your chances of better sleep by taking a pass on activities that are important to your values or a key part of who you are! In fact, there is a risk that insomnia may become a scapegoat for the things you believe you can’t do. Don’t let your sleep dictate how you live out your values. Tiredness is temporary. Within reason, do your best to live the life you truly want.

If you are struggling with insomnia and can’t seem to get better no matter what you do, it’s time to get some professional help to get your life back!

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