In our stressful and overstimulated modern lives, we sometimes neglect one of our body’s most natural healing mechanisms: sleep. The recommended amount of sleep for most adults is between seven to nine hours. In depriving ourselves of this, we are at risk of negative physical and emotional consequences, such as exhaustion, stress/anxiety, and fatigue. Thankfully, there are several ways to reset our sleep patterns and get us back on track.

1. Unwind before bed

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It is important to decompress and mentally prepare for sleep. Dimming the lights an hour or two before bedtime helps your body produce the natural sleep hormone, melatonin. Also, limit exposure to light from screens like televisions, laptops, and cell phones. It is recommended to avoid anything that glows but if that's impossible, then adjust the screen on your cell phone to the dimmest setting.

There are apps that can set your phone in “night mode” automatically, too. Try to have a calming ritual that you engage in before bed, such as listening to some light music, having a warm bath (many bath salts and lotions help induce sleep), aromatherapy, or sipping on any variety of “sleepy” teas that contain naturally calming ingredients such as lavender or chamomile. 

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2. Stick to a healthy and regular routine

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In establishing what psychologists call “sleep hygiene”, maintaining consistency is essential. Try going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends and holidays. This is so your body’s natural clock (“circadian rhythm”) does not get disrupted.

Avoid caffeine and alcohol in the hours immediately preceding bed, as they impair your body’s ability to reach deeper sleep stages. Also, some people find it useful to practice yoga or meditation to help focus their minds on the goal of having a restful night. 

3. Let go of your worries

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Anxiety involves a mental process called “rumination”—worrying over and over about something. Before turning in at night, it is important to clear our heads of negative thoughts. It might be useful to write a “to-do” list of the things you want to accomplish the following day.

This way, once they’re down on paper, you no longer have to worry about forgetting them and can rest more easily. Worry is useless and draining; it’s better to be pro-active and goal-directed. If worrisome thoughts are unmanageable on your own, seek the advice of a psychologist who specialises in sleep disorders or anxiety. 

Dr. Michael Eason is a psychologist and US licensed therapist practising at MindnLife in Central, Hong Kong. 

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