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TCarlsonFrom Our  Psychologist...
Preparing for Sleep

     Unfortunately, millions of Americans have significant difficulties falling asleep. Part of the reason is because we often don't allow our minds and bodies time to sufficiently unwind and relax before bedtime. It is extremely common for people to maintain a hectic pace all day long, rushing to work, running errands, shuffling kids, doing chores late into the evening and then expect their minds and bodies to shut off on command so that we can rest and do it all again the next day. Unfortunately, sleep simply doesn't work that way. Sleep cannot be forced and it cannot be done on command. However, the good news is that much of our sleep depends on what we do, or don't do, during the day and one of the most important strategies is creating a peaceful “Buffer Zone." This is the time you need to wind down from the day, to calm the mind, and relax the body.

To do this, try implementing the following ideas:

  • Establish a "marker," an activity that signals you are transitioning from your busy daytime activities to your bedtime routine. This can be saying "goodnight" to your children, leaving your home workspace, putting the dog out for the last time, etc.
  • Get your mind prepared to sleep—
    o It may help to write down your worries—makes you feel they will be addressed the next day, and you can forget about them for now.
    o Avoid negative thoughts about sleep—e.g., "It's going to be another one of those nights." Take the pressure off by focusing on following the steps of your pre-sleep routine, not whether it will work.
    o Read a book or watch a TV show that helps you focus away from anything that is bothering you, but…
  • Avoid TV and computers for at least 30-60 minutes before bed. Although your body may feel relaxed when you are stretched out in front of the big screen, your mind is actually very active. It is processing thousands of lights, sounds, and images per second and is highly stimulated.
    o If you aren’t willing to do that, at least pay close attention to what you are watching. Action movies, suspense thrillers, or anything frightening can impact sleep. If you are easily disturbed over political or social matters, skip the nightly news and catch it in the morning instead.
    o Consider decreasing the brightness on your screen as lights emitted from TV and computer screens can disturb sleep.
  • A small snack before bed may help, but nothing with too much sugar.
    o A mix of carbs and protein may be helpful—e.g., cheese and crackers.
    o No alcohol—although it may help you fall asleep faster, it will likely disturb sleep later in the night and is likely to cause you to wake up early.
  • Do something to help you relax—
    o Breathing exercises
    o Yoga/Stretching exercises
    o Soft music or a relaxation/guided imagery CD
    o Meditation or prayer
    o Hot shower / bath
    o Aromatherapy
    o Talk with a loved one (avoid stressful topics!)
    o Getting (or giving) a massage
    o Hot bedtime tea (make sure it is caffeine free!)
  • Only go to bed when you're sleepy. If you find yourself trying to “force" yourself to go to sleep, get out of bed and go back to doing something relaxing! Otherwise, the harder you try, the more frustrated and more alert you will become.

     Creating a consistent “Buffer Zone” is an important first step to improve your sleep. If you try the suggestions above and continue to struggle with sleepless nights, know that additional help is available. Contact Family Resources for an appointment with our Licensed Psychologist, Dr. Carlson, who specializes in Behavioral Sleep Medicine.

~ Dr. Tabitha Carlson, Licensed Clinical Psychologist

JMcCasslinTherapist’s Corner…

     In the Family Resources of Greater Nebraska, P.C. offices, our focus for July is "Rest and Relaxation" with a special emphasis on finding peace. We just returned from my in-law's annual family reunion. Don't get me wrong, I love vacations. It's one way of relaxing and finding peace. What I despise are the days prior to and after. Prior to vacation, it's a matter of laundry and packing, dishes and cleaning, plus the normal work things. After vacation, it's a matter of convincing the mind that it must function again, and unpacking and laundry.

     The primary stress of our family reunion is what to wear. You know those family reunions where everyone gets together and chats and plays cards? This is NOT one of those. The family is spread from California to Maryland, literally, so travel is a must. Families take turns hosting the reunions at various locations...sometimes it's their backyard, driving around the Sandhills of Nebraska, shivering on the pier of San Francisco, sweating on the coast of Maryland...well, you get the idea. Then, about 10 years ago, one person came up with the idea to theme the family reunions. Yes, theme them and dress the part.

     We've been pirates, Old West, Vegas go-ers, monsters/zombies, fantasy creatures, Medieval peasants/royalty, ship/shipwrecked persons. In costume, we attend ball games, restaurants, go on cruises...once we walked through a wedding reception dressed in Old West as if we were some exhibit at Custer State Park (and got our pictures taken with the bride and groom and several guests). My husband and brother-in-law's joint costume was extremely popular at a Renaissance Faire near Chicago.

     This year's theme was Sandwich family went as a BLT. The husband and I were the bread, our daughter called the bacon, son was lettuce and "belly baby" was the tomato. What fun!

     Prior to leaving, I decided this vacation would be better...before and after...because I used my skills as a therapist and things I use to know (before I developed procrastination skills) to help myself keep my peace. I got a head start on planning and preparing for the trip. I cleaned the house (and I admit, I hired some help to get my house to a "I think I can do it from here" point) and did laundry because I really hate coming home to a messy house. I made a list of what I needed to take and packed what I could earlier than last-minute. I cut back on work, prioritized what needed done before leaving and what could wait till I came home, and I gave myself a day prior to and a day after the vacation "off" from work (something I've never allowed myself to do before).

     Everyone needs to find what brings peace to their life. It's different for everyone and no one can expect to get it right the first time or for it to last forever, but being able to find peace when you're stressed is good for your health. Being able to plan, breathe and calm yourself in non-stress situations prepares you to do it when you really need it in stressful situations. Vacations can be stressful, but remember, it's important to take time to rest and relax...just don't let preparing for it or recovering from it be the death of you!

 ~ Jess McCaslin, Therapist

HainATips from Our EAP…
Quick Ways to Relax

Insomnia in the US workforce costs businesses over $63 billion in lost productivity over the course of a year.

50%of American adults do not get the recommended amounts of aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercise.

Here are several quick ways to relax and increase your productivity.

  • Release the body’s feel-good hormones—serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin—and lower the stress hormone, cortisol, by petting a dog for 15 minutes.
  • Human touch releases serotonin, and reduces blood pressure and heart rate, making you more relaxed.
  • A nice massage, or a simple hug may help put you at ease.
  • Have a good laugh--watch a comedy show or movie, joke with friends, watch some funny videos on YouTube or spend a few minutes on a humorous website.

 ~ Anna Hain, EAP Program Director

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