A few weekends ago, Mary and I had the wonderful treat of spending several days on Cape Cod with Kate, Andy and our marvelous granddaughter Rowan as well as with Kate’s BFFL Karen, her husband Micah and my pal, their delightful 3-year-old Mary.
You see, Karen’s been spending vacation time with us each summer since she and Kate were 5 and 4 years old.
Summer sisters … and now they live only miles apart in Chicago.
Among my responsibilities that weekend was, as expected, schlepping the chairs, umbrellas, blankets and now, baby sun shelter, from the car to the beach. Luckily, scoring the perfect parking space made it more like tailgating than a forced march.
Naps for all were the order of the day. I though, got roped into putting up jury-rigged sun blocking panels in the windows of the kids’ room to extend “sleepy time” by darkening the rooms.
Boy, was it worth the trouble!
Made me think about sharing with you once again some thoughts about how key good sleep is to wellness.
It seems there’s a new health warning in the news almost every week about how not getting enough sleep can negatively impact your health. Not getting adequate rest is clearly linked to heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke. Sleepiness also accounts for about 100,000 car accidents each year.
Mounting research can make it hard to think happy thoughts when you’re counting sheep each night, trying desperately to fall asleep.
But rather than turning to a sleeping pill for help, changing your thinking could help you get — and stay — asleep.
Although sleeping pills can temporarily help you get some sleep, if you’re dealing with long-term sleeping problems, cognitive behavioral therapy can help you solve the underlying problem of insomnia.
If you’ve ever had trouble falling asleep, you might recall having thoughts race through your head like: I’ll never be able to fall asleep now and I can’t deal with this all week. One component of the psychological tool, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) is called cognitive restructuring. It helps you replace those negative thoughts with positive ones.
Worrying about not getting enough sleep starts a vicious cycle where it’s harder to fall asleep, stay asleep and enter a deep, restorative sleep. Instead of thinking that you will have a bad day tomorrow if you don’t get enough sleep, cognitive restructuring retrains you to challenge your negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones.
Over time, it’s possible to change how you think about sleep and sleep better because of it.
In addition to cognitive restructuring, your doctor may recommend several techniques to help you sleep better:
Relaxation therapy: Deep breathing techniques, muscle relaxation and meditation can help you feel calm before bedtime.
Sleep hygiene: Changing habits like going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, stopping smoking, avoiding large meals before bed, refraining from having caffeine late in the day, not drinking alcohol and trying to exercise more often.
Stimulus control: The bedroom can become associated with other, non-sleep related behaviors like watching TV or checking your smartphone. Removing stimuli that might prevent you from falling asleep and going to bed only when you feel sleepy can help.
Sleep restriction: In some cases, spending too much time in bed when you can’t fall asleep can make the problem worse. Some experts advise getting up if you can’t fall asleep within 30 minutes, reading or doing something quiet and calming for a while and then trying again.
Sleep environment improvement: Your bedroom should promote sleep by being quiet, cool and dark. If possible, it can help to keep the clock out of view.
Remaining passively awake: Avoiding trying to fall asleep — letting go of worry about sleeping and not thinking about it — can help you relax and sleep.
So you see, there are a number of strategies you can try to get a better night’s rest if you’re suffering from insomnia. Working closely with your doctor and a sleep therapist can help you identify the best way to tackle your troubles and sleep soundly again … or call me and I’ll block your windows, give you your blankie and whisper a lullaby.
Dr. Alfred Casale, a cardiothoracic surgeon, is Associate Chief Medical Officer for Geisinger Health and Chair of the Geisinger Cardiac Institute. Readers may write to him via [email protected]