MountainStar Health - February 21, 2020
by Kennedy Gandy, LCSW, Behavioral Health Specialist, St. Mark’s Weight Treatment Center

In the previous blog, we discussed the need for proper sleep to regulate the hormones that help us effectively manage our weight. But what if sleep doesn’t come easy to you? This is where inadequate sleep has a snowball effect: we get a bad night’s sleep and wake up exhausted and craving relief, we overeat foods high in sugar or fat and we end up feeling bloated, wired, and uncomfortable. This makes it even harder to get to sleep the next night and the cycle continues. In this blog we offer a few tips for how to get a more restful sleep -- they may not all work, and none of them will work all the time, but the important thing is that we take little steps toward better rest. Once we do, we can harness the benefits of the snowball effect: we’ll sleep well, we’ll eat with greater mindfulness, our energy will be more consistent, and by our next bedtime we will be able to fall asleep even easier.

Tip #1: We get our best sleep when we’re tired

Obviously. But sometimes it can be easy to forget there are several different types of tired. If you’re having a hard time getting to sleep, chances are either your mind is racing or your body is jittery. If it’s your mind, it might help to give yourself chances by the end of the day to use your brainpower. Puzzles, reading, art, and problem solving are a few of the ways our brains get a workout. But what if your mind is tired but your body is restless? This might mean our body wants a little more activity. It doesn’t take a lot, but just a little activity whether it’s going for a walk, stretching, resistance training, or a mix of all the above can make a big difference when it comes time to sleep.

Tip #2: Keeping other basic needs in mind

Just like our eating habits are affected by how we sleep, our sleeping habits can be affected by other areas of our life. We already mentioned providing yourself with physical and mental activity, but we have plenty of other basic needs. Keeping hydrated is a great way to reassure our body that we are serious about taking care of it. Spending time with others in enjoyable social activities can also be helpful. And, finally, we have a real need to be productive, to contribute something on a daily basis. Giving ourselves meaningful ways to use our times can leave us feeling more satisfied and with that satisfaction we can more easily fall asleep without concerns that we’ve left something undone.

Tip #3: Harness the power of habit

It can be extremely helpful to come up with a routine that allows our body to know that it’s time for bed. Examples of this routine often include turning off technology like phones or the television, winding down with some meditation or stretching, and changing into comfy clothes or brushing our teeth. Our brains like to have cues to let it know what to expect. It’s one of the ways our brains safe time and energy. So another healthy habit we can begin to cultivate involves leaving the bed for activities only associated with sleep or intimacy. This includes finding another place to read or watch TV, or to fidget. Because if we get into bed and it has no idea whether it’s time for sleep or tossing and turning, it can take a minute for it to catch on that you actually mean to get some rest.

Tip #4: Don’t try so hard

It sounds strange, but one of the main reasons we might have a hard time getting to sleep is because we’re so desperate for rest. It requires a little reverse psychology, but convincing ourselves that it’s okay if we don’t go to sleep can take off some of the pressure. For example, just telling yourself that even if you don’t fall asleep, it is still possible to get rest and rejuvenation, we reduce our expectations and the anxiety that goes along with them. We can only try NOT to go to sleep, and just wait for your brain and body to say, “forget this, we’re going to bed.”

As mentioned above, sometimes these skills might help when other nights they won’t. But it is definitely worth a try, for both your sleep hygiene as well as your dietary choices, to give it a try. The most important thing is finding what works for you. And, if you still find it difficult to fall asleep, it might help to consider contacting your primary care physician to explore other medical obstacles to your sleep. Your body will thank you, in more ways than one, because when we take care of our bodies we can rest assured that they will take care of us.

For more tips on getting better sleep or your weight, attend one of our free classes at www.weightlossutah.com/freeclass. You can also schedule an appointment with one of our Behavioral Health Specialists at St. Mark’s Weight Treatment Center at (801) 268-7479.