Sleep…It Does a Body Good!

Cluff Counseling - Sleep for HealthIs your mind racing when you lay down at night to go to sleep? Does your growing to-do list keep you awake for hours on end–even when you are exhausted and know you need a solid night’s rest? These 6 simple ideas can help you sleep better.

There is a Parks and Recreation episode where the main character, Leslie, is trying to come up with great ideas after the smashing success of a community festival. She has a deadline by which she needs to produce several applause-worthy ideas, and she is at a total loss. She recruits her team to get out in nature to brainstorm, but they come up dry and wind up at a motel where she plans to stay awake all night at the drawing board in order to make her deadline. She is frazzled, irritable, snappy, and certainly nowhere near having any quality–let alone showstopper–ideas. What happens? One of her team members forces her into her room, locks her inside, and demands that she sleep. After sleeping 8+ hours, Leslie runs into the office (late) with a LIST of awesome ideas that everyone is excited about.

You may wonder what Parks and Recreation has to do with this week’s blog post topic of self-care. Well, this episode demonstrates an important point many of us overlook in our daily lives. We often think we have to stay up late, push through it, work extra hard, and force ourselves to produce quality work. In fact, in a 2013 Gallup report, it was reported that 41% of Americans are not getting the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep each night! We are overscheduled, overworked and overburdened. By the time we hit the sheets, we may have so much on our mind that we either do not sleep well or do not sleep long enough. And quality sleep really does a body so much good!

Proper sleep affects all aspects of our life–our overall mood, our ability to make decisions, our productivity…even our weight is influenced by how much we sleep.  Last year, a study was published showing that sleeping less than six hours per night for just one week resulted in changes in 700 genes in the human body. Although researchers do not understand the full ramifications of these changes, it is clear that there is an impact on our immune system, stress response, and an increase in inflammation.

What needs to be done? We need sleep. We need more of it, and we need it to be quality sleep. Whether you fall into bed exhausted each night or you end up laying in bed for awhile with your mind racing, the following six pointers will help you improve your sleep:

    1. Create an environment meant only for sleeping: In college, I was counseled that it was unwise to study in bed because the bed is where I sleep and my body can get confused if I do other activities, such as studying or reading, in it. My advice for better sleep is to use specific places for certain activities: study at a desk, peruse instagram on a couch, and sleep in your bed. Give your body the signal that it is time to wind down by keeping work, tv and other digital devices out of the bedroom.
    2. Turn the thermostat down a few degrees. Several sleep studies have shown that people sleep better when their bedroom is on the colder side.
    3. Write. If your mind is often racing at bedtime, give yourself a few minutes before bed to to write down anything that is lingering in your mind. Once you jot your thoughts down, you will signal to your brain that is it okay to let those thoughts go.
    4. Shhhhh. Eliminate any unnecessary peripheral noises from your room. (If your partner snores, try earplugs or noise-canceling headphones.)
    5. Create a routine. Babies need a routine with things like a bath, massage, bottle, story time, and lullaby to signal that it is bedtime. Well, adults need routines, too! Create a “winding down” routine for yourself and try to go to sleep / wake up at the same time each day. Our bodies respond well to predictability; try it!
    6. Breathe. Dr. Weil recommends a simple breathing exercise that can invite sleep in 60 seconds. It is called the 4-7-8 Breathing Technique. Basically, you do the following:
  • Be in a comfortable position (where you are not restricting your ability for deep breathing)
  • Place the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth behind your front teeth
  • Exhale completely
  • Inhale through your nose to a count of four
  • Hold your breath for a count of seven
  • Exhale through your mouth to a count of eight
  • Repeat three times

Of all the things we can do for our bodies, there is nothing it needs more than quality sleep. Getting proper rest does so much good for our overall health! We owe our bodies time to reenergize so we can live, be, and do our best each day. If you find you need additional help or guidance, feel free to contact me to  schedule your first session today. Getting proper rest is not a passive activity, so let’s take action and let sleep do our bodies good!

Resources:
Dr. Weil, “Three Breathing Exercises and Techniques”
Gallup Report: “In U.S., 40% Get Less Than Recommended Amount of Sleep”
Power of Positivity: “This Relaxation Exercise Can Help You Fall Asleep In 60 Seconds”
Simplemost: “Science Says Sleeping In A Cold Room Is Better For Your Health”

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Self-care: Is it Selfish?

Self-care | Cluff Counseling, Dallas Marriage and Family TherapistLife can be draining. We are constantly surrounded by a barrage of common, everyday stressors like financial strain; employment, unemployment or deployment; addiction; sickness; or familial discord. If we are not careful, life’s demands can overwhelm, frustrate, or discourage us. Self-care is a tried-and-true method prescribed by therapists, and other professionals, to help clients improve their overall health. In this post, I will explain how self-care is not a selfish use of time, but actually one of the best ways to improve your overall health. Keep reading and I will give a few ideas for how you can improve your self-care today!

Any string instrumentalist can tell you the importance of loosening the strings of your instrument when it is not in use. When a violin, viola, cello, or double bass is put in its case to be stored, the strings need to be loosened; then, when it is time to play again, the musician will tighten the strings and adjust the tuneage. This ensures that there is not constant, damaging pressure on the strings or the instrument itself that would impede it from playing optimally. Self-care is to humans what “loosening the strings” is to a string instrument–a rest, a break, a reprieve. It is not selfish, self-indulgence or self-pampering. It is care provided for you, by you. It is taking the time to do some of the activities that nurture you. It is about identifying your own needs and taking steps to meet them. Self care is about taking proper care of yourself and treating yourself as kindly as you treat others. It is vitally important to our overall health, yet we often fail to make time for it.

Most of us, myself included, could improve on how we take care of ourselves. We run ourselves ragged fulfilling our responsibilities and obligations at work, at home, at church, or with our family and friends. We neglect ourselves! When we do this, we see the things that are most important to us–such as our health, our relationships, our career and our life goals–negatively affected. When we live a balanced life, we are able to accomplish our to-do list and not feel emotionally drained, depleted of energy, and lacking in motivation at the end of the day.

So how well are you treating yourself? Use the following questions to identify areas of self-care you are successful in and areas you could improve in:

  • Am I getting between 6-8 hours of sleep a night?
  • Am I eating 3 balanced meals a day?
  • Am I saying “no” to extraneous responsibilities (when applicable)?
  • Am I exercising 2-3 times a week?
  • Am I making and maintaining meaningful relationships with those in my circle of support?
  • Am I making time for hobbies?
  • Am I taking time to relax?
  • Am I keeping my mind sharp by reading good books, playing word puzzles or seeking to educate myself further in areas that interest me?
  • Do I know what triggers my bad moods and am I actively working to remove those triggers?
  • Do I know how to express my emotions in healthy ways that don’t hurt myself or others?
  • Have I established spiritual or religious practices and do I practice them consistently?

If you were able to answer yes to the majority of these questions, then you are well on your way to practicing good self-care. If you answered no to any of them, you know where to start. Be intentional about your self-care–literally schedule it into your day! And please, start small with behaviors you can reasonably implement without overwhelming yourself. Remember, self-care should leave you feeling relaxed and rejuvenated, not more stressed with one more thing on your plate!

I have seen clients make remarkable progress in their sessions with me when they correctly and consistently practice self-care. If your figurative strings are loosened at the appropriate times, you will be able to perform to the best of your ability when you need to. We can all improve our self-care. Let’s start today and give ourselves a little bit of a break from the rigorous lives we lead.

If you have any questions on how you can implement self-care into your life, please feel free to contact me. Similarly, if you would like help formulating an effective and personalized self-care plan, schedule your first session with me today!

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