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Getting Better Sleep: The Basics

The National Sleep Foundation guidelines say that healthy adults need between 7-9 hours of sleep per night. If we don’t get at least a minimum amount of sleep, we’re missing out on crucial non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep cycles. These help us with the brain’s memory consolidation processes. This is essentially like a gardener pruning unneeded neural pathways and watering pathways to events and experiences the brain thinks is important. Almost everyone I’ve ever worked with has agreed that sleep is valuable, but many still report they regularly get 6 hours or less of sleep. Why the paradox? Over my time working as a therapist, I’ve seen many contributing factors to this sleep debt many of us face. These can include factors such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, adjustment concerns, poor sleep hygiene, PTSD, executive function concerns with ADHD, internet and phone addiction, difficulty with boundary setting, perfectionism and overwork, demanding schedules, difficult life circumstances, physical health issues and more. Some of us have trouble getting ourselves to GO to sleep, while others struggle with restless, anxious and disruptive sleep. And some of us struggle with both. There are different techniques to try depending on which struggle befalls you. For the purpose of this short introduction, I’ll share some initial behavioral strategies. They might not solve every concern I mentioned above, but are a good place to start. Some of us struggle with basic “sleep hygiene.” Good sleep hygiene includes behaviors that create a routine. A routine and a comfortable physical, emotional and mental environment surrounding sleep helps achieve regular, consistent and restful sleep. To get better sleep, you must practice good sleep hygiene. Examples of good sleep hygiene include:

  • waking up at the same time every day,

  • using your bed only for sleep,

  • creating a pre-bedtime routine that you actually enjoy and/or

  • making your environment as comfortable as possible. Good bedding, a comfortable sleeping temperature and sleep aids like earplugs or masks can improve the quality of your sleep.

People with difficulties getting themselves into bed on time might try following a specific bedtime. Try using a phone or internet shutdown app such as the iPhone Screen Time app’s “downtime” resource. Get into pajamas and brush your teeth much earlier than your bedtime to cue an earlier bedtime response. Maybe you see the value of these behavioral interventions but struggle to put them in place. You might try reflecting or journaling about how wonderful it feels when you do get a good night’s sleep. This can be a guiding light and motivation to continue these strategies. In my next article, I’ll outline some more specific strategies for those struggling with anxiety and sleep. Wishing you a restful night ahead!


Melissa Lee Nilles, LMHC is a licensed mental health counselor and expressive arts therapist with a Master's degree from Lesley University’s Mental Health Counseling and Expressive Arts Therapy program. She is deeply passionate about self-exploration through the arts, mindfulness practices and therapy. She seeks to collaborate with her clients using the tools of person-centered therapy, mindfulness, meditation, trauma-informed body-oriented psychotherapy and expressive arts therapy (through music therapy, art therapy, and poetry/writing therapy). Melissa also employs CBT and motivational interviewing to help you transform your life. She prefers a holistic, eclectic and interdisciplinary approach to addressing client concerns.

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