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Improve Your Sleep, Improve Your Life

Five steps to a good night's sleep

Between the sunrise and sunset of your life, how well you sleep can affect how healthfully you live and how long you live1, 2, 3. For example, serious forms of depression often follow longer-term sleep problems; that is one ugly condition to prevent when you can. Fortunately, you can do much to improve your sleep and improve your health, happiness, and possibly your longevity. Let’s look at how you can avoid ongoing sleep problems by exercising peaceful inner control.

Relief from Sleeplessness

It’s rare for people to sleep well all the time. If you occasionally lose sleep due to illness or negative life events, you’ll have a sleep debt to pay that you can wipe out within a reasonable time by catching a little extra shut-eye. However, long-term sleep deficits add vulnerabilities for the common cold, diabetes, cancer, coronary heart disease, anxiety, and depression. If you have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking too early, you are likely to feel in a fog, have difficulties concentrating, have a low tolerance for frustration, and feel overwhelmed by too many conditions that seem pressing.

Seven to eight hours of sleep a night are typically adequate. A pattern of five hours or less can affect your health and longevity. There are exceptions. Psychologist Albert Ellis, who founded rational emotive therapy, required less than five hours sleep a night. He was extraordinarily productive and lived until he was 93. (Lest you think sleeping nine hours or more a night conveys health benefits, think again. Sleep excesses are associated with health hazards, such as an increased risk for cancer)

You may reduce your risk for physical and psychological health hazards by initiating proven techniques for getting a good night’s sleep. You load the dice in your favor when you make sleeping well a priority, and progressively master tested ways to improve your sleep.

Like anything else, effective execution is critical to any reasonable sleep improvement action plan. If they apply to you, here are five start-up tips for improving your life by improving your sleep. Can and will you execute them if improving your sleep patterns is important to do?

1. Get into a healthy routine. As a species, most of us prefer predictability to uncertainty and chaos. Getting into reasonably predictable, positive, life routines can make it easier to fall asleep. Omit things from your routine that contribute to wakefulness, such as eating before bed or having a nightcap.

2. Resolve your conflicts as soon as feasible. You’ll have less to dwell upon at night when you’ve taken care of difficult situations long before the time to sleep. I know that resolving conflicts can be uncomfortable. However, it is the incomplete actions that are likely to weigh heaviest on your mind4. If you are going to sooner or later have to come to a resolution to a problem, think about what you want to accomplish, how to proceed, and then unprocrastinatingly proceed.

3. Avoid depleting your melatonin (your natual sleep chemical). Exposure to intrusive indoor light at night can have a suppressive effect on the hormone melatonin that helps trigger sleep5. This includes light from your TV or computer screen.

4. Don’t put a time limit on your emotions. Admittedly, some unwanted events take longer to get over, such as an unwanted job loss or relationship separation. Even when you can’t shape the outcome that you prefer, you can accept the loss without catastrophizing; this can have a quieting effect. However, if you think you have to get over something quickly, it will take longer.

5. Follow professional guidelines for evidence-based cognitive behavioral techniques for sleep6. Here is a sampling: [1] Stimulus control procedures include avoiding naps, going to bed only when sleepy, and using bed only for sleep; [2] Relaxation methods include muscular relaxation, abdominal breathing, and creating pleasant, serene, mental images. [3] Regulate your sleep by getting to bed and arising at uniform hours—even on weekends.

For more cognitive, emotive, and behavioral ways of getting a good night’s sleep, click on: Sixteen Ways to End Insomnia.

If you sleep poorly because of anxiety, click on this resource for combatting anxiety: The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Anxiety (Second Edition).

If you have both sleep and mood (depression) problems, click on this resource for combatting depression: The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Depression (Second Edition).


1. Duggan, Katherine A.; Reynolds, Chandra A.; Kern, Margaret L.; Friedman, Howard S. (2014). Childhood sleep duration and lifelong mortality risk. Health Psychology 33(10): 1195-1203.

2. Chang P.P., Ford, D.E., Mead, L. A., Cooper-Patrick, L. and Klag M. J. (1997). Insomnia in young men and subsequent depression. American Journal of Epidemiology 146(2):105-14.

3. Greene, G. Gregory, A. M., Fone, D. and White, J. 2014. Childhood sleeping difficulties and depression in adulthood: The 1970 British cohort study. Journal of Sleep Research. Abstract September 2.

4. Gooley, J. J., Chamberlain, K., Smith, K. A., Khalsa, S. B., Rajaratnam, S. M., Van Reen, E, Zeitzer, J. M., Czeisler, C. A., and Lockley, S. W. 2011. Exposure to room light before bedtime suppresses melatonin onset and shortens melatonin duration in humans. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology Metabolism 6(3): 463-72.

5. Syret, C. and Antonia, C. H. (2014). Unfinished tasks foster rumination and impair sleeping—particularly if leaders have high expectations. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology 19(4): 490-499.

6. Schutte-Rodin, S., Broch, L., Buysse, D., Dorsey, C., and Sateia, M. (2008). Clinical guideline for the evaluation and management of chronic insomnia in adults. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine 10(109): 487-504.



Dr. Bill Knaus

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