Should you develop a nighttime ritual?

Dateline, Portland, Oregon—Amelia J. Wilcox, Ph.D.: When our daughter was young we had a bedtime ritual—a series of events that slowed down the day and helped her know the time for sleep was approaching. Is there value in considering similar rituals for the rest of us?

Insomnia. It plagues us—depriving us of the restful sleep we need to feel restored and protect our health. Studies estimate that somewhere between 10 and 20% of adults suffer from insomnia, and the statistics are much higher for adults over the age of 65—42% of this population complains of difficulty falling or staying asleep.

Many things can get in the way of a good night’s sleep. People with a variety of medical and psychiatric conditions are more likely to suffer from sleep problems, and sleep problems can contribute to depression and anxiety, as well as a host of primary medical disorders including metabolic disorder, hypertension and weight gain. Addressing sleep problems is worth the effort in the short-term, and the long-run.

Cognitive Behavioral Treatment for Insomnia (CBT-I) is a short-term intervention that has been found to be highly effective in treating insomnia across all ages, and it may be necessary for many. But some may find that a careful evaluation of evening habits can give them clues for change, without professional intervention.

Stimulus control is part of insomnia management, and a bedtime ritual can be seen as a form of stimulus control. If you are having difficulty winding down at the end of the day and find yourself awake in bed after turning out the lights, you might consider developing a bedtime ritual of your own, the grown up version of the rituals we all used for our children when they were young.

Some things to consider:

·         Wind down smart phone/laptop/tablet use an hour or two before sleep, as these devices emit blue-range light that tricks our pineal gland into shutting down melatonin production

·         If you are a worrier, take some time an hour before bed to do a data dump on paper. This might include

o   A list of tomorrow’s tasks, so you can put them out of your mind overnight

o   A reminder that worrying about things tonight won’t change them, but sleep may help you tackle them with fresh energy in the morning

·         Create a sequence of events that tell your body it is time to wind down. This might include

o   A warm bath

o   A gentle stretch (save heavy exercise for another time of day)

o   Progressive relaxation of muscle groups

o   A good book (but not a page turner…you want to go to sleep!) on paper

o   A cool, dark and quiet room

·         Consider maintaining the same bedtime each night and waking time in the morning—even on the weekends. Doing so may keep you from Monday morning jetlag.

·         And remember, your bed is really only a place for sleep and intimacy. Don’t study, work, answer email,  pay bills, watch television or argue with your partner there, it will only associate your bed with not being relaxed

A good night’s sleep is worth some effort. Tinkering with the run-up to sleep may help you find your way back to sleeping well.