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Getting Your ZZZ's

sleepSleep is an issue that's on many people's minds, whether you are young or old. Last year during a visit to Haiti, our tour guide told us that insomnia was a major problem there as parents worried about how to feed their children and children worried about when their next meal would come. We may not have such worries, but there may be other issues keeping us awake at night. We are well aware that middle and high school students stay up late finishing homework, studying, or using social media. Adults are up late with projects for work, activities of family life, social media, or in some cases, stress and worry.

My daughter's high school teacher gave students a contract for both parents and students to sign. As part of that contract she encouraged students to get a good night's rest and noted that a teenager needed nine and one- quarter hours of sleep each night. This was wonderful for me to read and sign as I often reminded my daughter of the importance of a good night's sleep. Nine and one- quarter hours may seem like a luxury to many of us. Nevertheless, we need to determine the number of hours we need to feel well rested in the morning. If you are not feeling well rested in the morning try adding an extra hour of sleep each night to determine your optimal number of sleep hours. Why such a focus on sleep? Adequate sleep contributes to better attention and memory, better mood, better immune system, less fatigue, heart health, and resilience to stress.

To help you get better ZZZs here are some tips.

Create a calm environment. Create a calm sleep environment for sleep by keeping your bedroom dark, quiet, and at a moderate temperature. Turn off the T.V., computer, laptop, cell phone, iPad, chrome book, facebook.

Calm your brain with mental exercises. Distracting yourself from your stress and worries can be enough to help you fall asleep. Mental exercises help your brain focus less on your worries. One exercise can be thinking of fruits and vegetables that begin with a certain letter of the alphabet. Another exercise is to focus on the details of a particular object; focus on its color, shape, size and what it's used for. Or you can recite words from a favorite poem or song.

Mind what you eat and drink. Processed sugar, alcohol, and caffeine affect your brain and the rest of your body in ways that can contribute to anxiety. They should not be a significant part of your diet. Eliminating them from your diet may feel similar to drug withdrawal. However, over a short period of time, you will be surprised at the difference you feel in your body.

Mind your medication. It would be wise to review all of your medications, including over the counter products to see if they may be contributing to poor sleep. Avoid sleep medications and use of over the counter cold and allergy medicines to help you sleep. The chemicals in these products affect your sleep cycle, and ability to fall asleep naturally. Consult your physician about the use of melatonin, even though it's a natural supplement, as individual results vary.

Focus on cultivating an attitude of gratitude. If you lie in bed worrying, try to think of some positive things. You can think of things for which you are grateful, including good memories, happy events, and humorous occasions.

Practice relaxation exercises. Relaxation exercises are very helpful in reducing anxiety and racing thoughts. Exercises to try include progressive muscle relaxation (focusing on each major muscle group and tensing and relaxing it) and breathing deeply from the diaphragm. There are apps for your smart phone that you can get to help with these relaxation exercises. Look for one that suits use. A quiet time of prayer and reading from a religious text may also be calming.

Participate in exercise or physical activity. Exercising helps with sleep. Exercise helps to manage depression and anxiety. Exercise can be stimulating for some, so if that's you be sure you exercise a few hours before bedtime.

Keep calm and sleep on.

boatswainDr. Brenda Boatswain is a local licensed Psychologist and Certified Group Psychotherapist who has been practicing with a holistic approach for over twenty years; integrating mind-body-spirit research and techniques for optimal health and well being. She is unavailable between the hours of 11pm and 6am.

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