"Without sleep, we can’t function"
It’s 3 a.m. after a long day of classes or work and there’s an early start to the day tomorrow. But you’re on Netflix. Or scrolling through Tik Tok. Or you’re making a snack while you slide down a YouTube rabbit hole. Whatever it is, you know you’ll regret it in the morning, but you just want some quiet time to yourself.
In June 2020, journalist Daphne K. Lee named this behaviour “revenge bedtime procrastination.” It’s a new term, but it’s just one more bad habit added to the age-old problem of lack of sleep.
NAIT counsellor Caren Anderson says that if we want to improve our health, sleep is one of the first places to start.
“Without sleep, we can’t function. Sleep deprivation is worse than not eating,” she says. “We need [sleep] to get oxygen to the brain and we need to be able to go into a REM sleep to be able to have energy.”
How do we get more of that? Here are Anderson’s tips on getting a decent night’s sleep while making the most of the few free waking hours we have.
1. Take self-care time throughout the day
“It’s really important to take breaks throughout the day and work on not feel bad about it,” says Anderson.
By putting off sleep, we’re trying to take back time that’s been taken away from us during the day. The pandemic has worsened this, with lines between our work and personal lives blurring.
Learn about other supports available from NAIT counselling
In addition to taking breaks, Anderson suggests starting the day on a positive note by doing something we enjoy first thing in the morning, and reminding ourselves that it will benefit our memory, energy levels and more.
Sometimes, this might take a little effort. “We’re not taking away time from something – this is adding to our day,” she points out. “Timelines are not always forgiving for taking time for ourselves but we need to shift that mentality and our approach.”
2. Establish a ritual
“Routine is really important when it comes to sleep,” says Anderson. Go to bed around the same time each night and go through the same steps leading up to bedtime. Try a hot bath, using essential oils or wearing a sleep mask to signal your body that it’s time to rest.
You can also schedule things to regularly look forward to, whether it’s listening to music or reading a book.
The routine can also include steps taken earlier in the day, such as what we consume and when. Coffee, tea and pop can affect sleep, so choose decaffeinated options from the afternoon on.
3. Practice grounding exercises
“A lot of people have anxiety before going to bed, because it’s the first time they’ve stopped that day,” says Anderson. “Use grounding exercises to refocus your mind instead of amping yourself up thinking about everything.”
Anderson recommends thinking about what’s in your bedroom – five things you can see, five things you can smell and five things you can hear. There’s no need to get too specific, just be aware of what else is in the space with you. That can calm your mind and body.
4. Set aside your worries
If it’s helpful, schedule some worry time.
“We tend to worry a lot at night,” Anderson says. “That’s when we have the first bit of time to process our day and that can keep us up.” Consider writing things down to externalize that worry and get it off your mind.
For some people, it can help to visualize a container – something strong and big enough to hold our worries for the night. It symbolizes that the work or school day is over until we’re ready to revisit it the next day.
5. No phones allowed
“[Don’t] spend too much time looking at screens before bed because that can stimulate us,” Anderson says. She recommends putting devices down two hours before bed.
Keep your phone out of the bedroom to remove the temptation to pick it up, she says. If you get your coat, bag and other items ready for work the night before, leave your phone with them.
If having your phone out of the bedroom isn’t possible, even the act of putting it down for the night will help associate going to bed with sleep.
6. Don’t try too hard
If you can’t fall asleep right away, don’t stay in bed and watch the clock.
“Sometimes getting up and doing something to distract yourself can help,” says Anderson. “Do some reading, have some hot tea.” (Decaffeinated, of course.)
Your body will know when it’s time to try sleeping again.