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Methods for Meeting Basic Needs: Sleep

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Are you sleeping enough? If you are, you will be waking up in the morning feeling rested. Eight hours per night is the average recommended amount, but individuals vary in their needs. The amount of sleep you need changes over your lifetime, as well; as you age, many people find they need slightly less sleep.

There are several reasons you might not be sleeping enough:

  • You might be missing sleep voluntarily, because you are not prioritizing it. If you are staying out late, working, reading, or just watching television past the hour you know you should be sleeping, you are contributing to your own problem. If this is the case, see about re-arranging your schedule so that you can be in bed with the lights and the TV off at the appointed time.
  • If you can't get to sleep easily, regularly wake up in the middle of the night, or find yourself waking up too early, you might have insomnia. There are a variety of things you can do to address insomnia that fall under the heading of improving your "sleep hygiene":
  • Your sleeping and waking urges are determined by a body rhythm. This body rhythm can get out of sync with day and night when you travel, stay up too late, or get up too late. You can help keep your sleep cycle set properly by
  • Going to sleep and rising in the morning at the same time, every day.
  • Avoiding daytime naps of any duration.
  • Avoiding stimulants (including coffee), and stimulating activity (exercise, emotionally charged conversation) for several hours before bedtime.
  • Eating a smaller evening meal rather than a larger one.
  • Avoid drinking much fluid before bedtime (so you don't urinate in the night)
  • leaving a window shade open to catch the morning sunlight.
  • Make a pre-bedtime ritual that helps you shift gears from the business of the day to the quiet of the night. Some people benefit from relaxation or breathing exercises, while others like to read, or listen to the radio.
  • Make your bedroom into a refuge from the outside world. Don't work in bed. Do what you can to make it a comfortable and relaxing place. Make sure your bedding is comfortable and clean. Install room darkening blinds so that you can control the light. Do what you can to control noise. If your partner needs to listen to the radio or television to sleep but this bothers you, ask them to use headphones.
  • See your primary care doctor about prescription sleeping aides if you think you need them, or pain medications if you are bothered by pain in the night. Such medications should generally be used on a short term basis only, however. They are often habit-forming (addictive), and you may end up unable to sleep normally without them.
  • Some medicines can cause sleep disturbances, as can some illnesses (like depression, or certain anxiety disorders). Consult with your doctor's office if you are on any medications you think might be contributing to your problem.
  • If all else fails, and you find yourself up in the night with a head full of racing thoughts, and unable to get back to sleep, think about getting up and doing something different which will distract or comfort yourself. Read, write in a journal or perhaps watch some television.

While most people complain that they don't get enough sleep, some people have the opposite problem; they end up sleeping too long! Overly long sleep can be a sign of depression, or a sleep disorder. See your doctor for a proper diagnosis if this is the case. You might also look over our recommendations for addressing depression.

Sleep is one of the primary rejuvenating things we do each day. We need the energy and resilience that restful sleep provides more than ever when we are going to be tackling complicated and painful issues through a process of self-help. You should make sure to schedule a little extra time for sleep each night when you know you'll be dealing with painful or challenging issues.