Take Steps Toward Better Self-care - Start with Better Sleep

Ask the Experts by Megan Gunnel

Q: The holidays can be so stressful and overwhelming. Now that we are starting a new year, I would like suggestions on simple steps I can take to help me feel like I can better cope with stress and life challenges.

A: As a psychotherapist, I spend a lot of time talking with my clients about improving their self-care. That could mean lots of things to lots of people in lots of various circumstances, but ultimately, adding more intentionality or a heightened state of awareness to care of the self tends to make everything immediately feel a little better.

I use the example from the airplane with the oxygen mask - "first assist yourself, and then your neighbor." We can't cope well if we don't attend to our 'oxygen' first.

Of all the elements of self-care; sleep, hydration, nutrition, exercise and socialization or outlets for stress, the first pillar is truly sleep. When we are sleep deprived, everything feels harder. Our irritability is high, our distress tolerance is low, we are overly sensitive and lack focus and mental clarity.

Sometimes not getting enough sleep is out of our control, but in some cases, there are simple things we could do differently to improve the quality of our sleep. Follow these tips for better sleep hygiene:

  • You'll never get more restorative sleep (delta wave) by sleeping in. You can only get more this by going to bed earlier.
  • In order for your body to naturally produce melatonin, your bedroom should be dark enough that you cannot easily see your hand outstretched in front of your face when the lights are out.
  • Try to limit screen time to 1 hour before going to bed.
  • Keep your bedroom a sanctuary for rest and relaxation - not for working on your laptop, paying bills or dealing with stress-related issues.

So why is sleep our most important element of our self-care routine? If sleep falls, everything else falls too. When we're tired, we don't have the energy to make good decisions on nutrition, we don't have energy to exercise and we don't have the capacity for willpower and consequently we make impulsive decisions that don't support our overall health.

Instead of making a big new years resolution, try taking a simple step towards increasing your attention towards self-care. Make getting a good nights rest your first priority toward taking care of yourself.

Megan Gunnell, LMSW, MT-BC is a psychotherapist in private practice in Grosse Pointe. Megan specializes in women's issues and couples therapy. She supports personal transformative work through a practice grounded in mindfulness as well as integrative medicine and the healing arts. Megan also offers traditional talk therapy with a focus on cognitive behavioral therapy and self-care. She can be reached at 248-635-5285 or visit her website megangunnell.com. Gunnell is a member of The Family Center's Association of Professionals.

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