“I can’t sleep!” Mike exclaimed during his first session in counseling. “Plus, I wake up every morning with anxiety and struggle with depression as the day lingers on. I think it’s because I have PTSD from my military tours and my awful childhood,” he speculated. “Ever since I retired, I just don’t cope well.”
Upon further probing from the counselor, Mike admitted that he skipped breakfast, ate fast food for lunch, drank many of his dinners with bar snacks, consumed an entire pot of coffee late in the evening, and smoked a cigarette every time he woke up to use the bathroom.
Practically minded, the counselor suggested he try changing a few of his health habits to improve his sleep and mood. “No,” he protested. “I know my symptoms stem from PTSD.” The counselor agreed, but gently nudged Mike to humor her suggestions to limit coffee to daytime hours, eat protein at breakfast, and have a few alcohol-free days. Begrudgingly, he agreed.
In the next session, he arrived with his report for the week. “Well, I tried your suggestions, and I actually had a few good nights of sleep,” he admitted with a sheepish grin. “How did you know that changing a few bad habits would help with sleep?” The counselor smiled and noted that most people with his symptoms could improve their health habits.
Here are some tips to improve your sleep.
Try to maintain a regular sleep schedule. Avoid sleeping in or going to bed too late on days off as this will throw off your snooze routine.
Maintain a regular eating schedule to improve sleep. Choose healthy bedtime stacks to help you fall and stay asleep.
Avoid screens (TV, computer, phone) for a half hour before bed. Read or meditate instead.
Just before bed, write down reminders, to-do lists, ideas, and rambling thoughts. Remind yourself that this is written down and you will tend to these tomorrow. If you forget something and it’s keeping you awake, write it down and return to sleep.
Practice deep breathing while falling asleep and focus on calming thoughts and images.
Listen to soothing sounds (bedroom fan, sound machines, YouTube sleep videos) while falling asleep.
Use a few drops of lavender oil in a diffuser for better quality and quantity of sleep.
Avoid caffeine after 2 or 3 p.m.
Avoid or reduce alcohol intake as even small amounts impair sleep.
Quit smoking or at least refrain from smoking in the evening.
Consider natural sleep aids like melatonin and lavender.
Start a moderate exercise program to improve sleep. Some people may need to exercise at least two hours before bedtime.
As an occasional sleep aid, ask your primary care doctor about trying over-the-counter Benedryl. Read this article about precautions first.
After three counseling sessions, Mike’s sleep improved dramatically. Then he was in a much better frame of mind to address the abuse from his childhood and the horrors he saw in combat. It’s often a good idea to try simple remedies for sleep before trying sleep medications.
Image is under license from Shutterstock.com.