Sleep – an important occupation. Are we getting enough ZZZZs?

cartoon drawing of sleeping cat with zzz over its headHow are you sleeping these days? How are your clients sleeping? In a society of ever-increasing busyness and trying to juggle multiple roles, tasks, and responsibilities, are you feeling rested in the morning? I work with college students, some of whom are notorious for all-nighters. Throw in some hospital experiences with a family member, and I realize that hospitals are not good places to get good sleep either, despite the goal of healing. Rather ironic, isn’t it?!?

Many Americans are simply not getting enough sleep – regardless of any other health conditions they may have. In addition, lack of sleep can contribute to new or existing health conditions. Do you talk about sleep with your clients? How do we expect our clients to function in daily occupations when they are overtired and lacking enough physical, emotional, and cognitive energy?  Here are some basic ideas for you and maybe even some of your clients to think about in order to get enough REST:

R: Routine

Do you have a bedtime routine or habits that help you unwind and get ready for bed? In the hour before bed, engage in some calming bedtime routines and activities to help prepare your mind and body for sleep. Some ideas are:

  • Gentle stretching or relaxation exercises before bed.
  • Reading – something restful or calming (no murder mysteries or horror novels)
  •  Listen to quiet, calming music
  • Meditation or prayer

E:  Environment – Is the sleeping area dark enough, quiet enough? Light stimulates the brain, and noises can disrupt sleep.  What about the temperature of the sleeping area?  While warm rooms may tend to make us feel sleepy at first, a cooler room may be better for longer-term sleep.  Consider these ideas:

  • Cover the windows – consider using shades, blinds, and curtains that are called “black-out” or “room darkening.” Many of these are available at department stores.
  • Try a sleeping mask. These are very inexpensive (often less than $5) and available in the pharmacy aisle of your local “mart.
  •  Using a white noise machine or even a simple fan can softly block out background noises that might interrupt sleep.
  • Turn the thermostat down and snuggle under a blanket for warmth. OTs knows that the weight of a blanket can help calm the nervous system and thus help the body calm down.

S: Stimulation…or lack thereof, is important for your brain and body to rest

  • Turn off the electronics – TV, smart phones, computers, video games, etc. at least 30-45 minutes prior to bedtime. Are you texting or emailing just before bed? Put your electronics out of the bedroom. If you are using a phone for your alarm, put it on the other side of the room so you’re not tempted to look at it to check for the latest text message while lying in bed. In fact, turn texting features off during sleep hours.
  • Avoid caffeine 4-6 hours before bed. So nix the caffeinated coffee, tea and sodas in the evening. Watch for hidden caffeine in certain brands of soda where you might not expect it (e.g. Sunkist© orange, Barq’s® root beer, A & W® Cream Soda) and other foods such as chocolate.
  • Avoid rigorous exercise too close to bedtime. Such exercise elevates the heart rate and internal body temperature, making it harder to relax and sleep.

 T:  Time

  • How are you or your clients managing their time?  Do you allow enough time in your day for adequate rest?  Are there tasks or other activities that can be lessened in our 24 hours so that we have enough time for sleep and are not stealing from our sleep time?  You probably know that newborns and infants will sleep 16 – 18 hours per day on average. School-aged children need anywhere from 8-10 hours per night (plus naps, depending on their ages), while most adults need 7-8 hours per night on average. (Adults may want to take short naps, too, but beware – too much napping may simply be shifting your total sleep hours to the daytime, making it hard for you to get all of your sleep at night.)
  • Related to routines, having a regular bedtime (and awake time) can help your body get into habits that help you prepare for sleep on a regular basis.

In a future post, I will cover some helpful tips for people with special health care issues or who are in hospitals, nursing homes, etc. In the meantime, feel free to add your own suggestions and tips in the comments below.

This entry was posted in Research & Resources by Debbie Waltermire. Bookmark the permalink.

About Debbie Waltermire

As an Assistant Professor in the O.T. Department, I have taught courses in Group Process, OT Administration/Management & Supervision, and Psychosocial Interventions. My clinical background is in adult psychiatry, esp. schizophrenia. My research includes sensory processing in schizophrenia and sensory factors in vocational environments, and the impact of congenital heart defects on occupational performance in children and adolescents/young adults. Family centered care, health care policy, and public health are also within the realm of my professional work.

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