Catching Zzz’s: Why Sleep is Important, and How We (and Our Children) Can Get It

By Anne Peters, LMFT

Does anyone else still feel like you are recovering from daylight saving time? It’s always a reminder to me of just how important and crucial sleep is. We also know 2020 has brought a lot of stress, and with stress comes sleep difficulty. Why is it important that we get an appropriate amount of sleep? The reasons are nearly endless, but here are some of the most critical.

• Improved immune system (less sick days!)
• Better sleep = better mood
• Improved memory
• Improved physical health (healthy heart, steadier blood sugar, maintained weight)
• Sharper mind

Now we know the benefits are tremendous, so how do we actually get the sleep we need? Here are some tips!

• Turn all electronics off at least an hour or two before you plan to close your eyes to sleep. Instead, read a book, talk with a friend or family member, or spend some time outside (if the weather allows).
• Keep the temperature cool.
• Reduce caffeine use later in the day.
• Try to sleep and wake at consistent times – even on weekends.
• Take a relaxing bath or shower to help relax before bed.
• Meditate and be mindful. This one has been proven to be most helpful for me, so I wanted to share my favorite mindfulness activity to use before bed. If you prefer to listen to a similar exercise, do an internet search for “Progressive Muscle Relation.” Here’s a great script from River Ridge Counseling you can read and practice to yourself and see just how calm it makes you. Enjoy a good night’s sleep!

Begin in a comfortable position sitting, standing, or lying down (this works for sleep preparation also). You can change positions any time during the progressive muscle relaxation exercises to make yourself more comfortable as needed.

1. The first progressive muscle relaxation exercise is breathing. Breathe in forcefully and deeply, and hold this breath. Hold it… hold it… and now release. Let all the air go out slowly, and release all the tension. Take another deep breath in. Hold it… and then exhale slowly, allowing the tension to leave your body with the air. Now breathe even more slowly and gently… breathe in… hold… out… breathe in… hold… out… Continue to breathe slowly and gently. Allow your breathing to relax you. Imagine with each exhale that the tension and stress is being released with the air. Let the tension out of your chest.

2. The next progressive muscle relaxation exercise focuses on relaxing the muscles of your body. Start with the large muscles of your legs. Tighten all the muscles of your legs. Tense the muscles further. Hold onto this tension. Feel how tight and tensed the muscles in your legs are right now. Squeeze the muscles harder, tighter… Continue to hold this tension. Feel the muscles wanting to give up this tension. Hold it for a few moments more… and now relax. Let all the tension go. Feel the muscles in your legs going limp, loose, and relaxed. Notice how relaxed the muscles feel now. Feel the difference between tension and relaxation. Enjoy the pleasant feeling of relaxation in your legs. Now focus on the muscles in your arms. Tighten your shoulders, upper arms, lower arms, and hands. Squeeze your hands into tight fists. Tense the muscles in your arms and hands as tightly as you can. Squeeze harder… harder… hold the tension in your arms, shoulders, and hands. Feel the tension in these muscles. Hold it for a few moments more… and now release. Let the muscles of your shoulders, arms, and hands relax and go limp. Feel the relaxation as your shoulders lower into a comfortable position and your hands relax at your sides. Allow the muscles in your arms to relax completely.

3. Focus again on your breathing. Slow, even, regular breaths. Breathe in relaxation… and breathe out tension… in relaxation… and out tension… Continue to breathe slowly and rhythmically.

4. Now focus on the muscles of your buttocks. Tighten these muscles as much as you can. Hold this tension… and then release. Relax your muscles. Tighten the muscles of your back now. Feel your back tightening, pulling your shoulders back and tensing the muscles along your spine. Arch your back slightly as you tighten these muscles. Hold… and relax. Let all the tension go. Feel your back comfortably relaxing into a good and healthy posture. Turn your attention now to the muscles of your chest and stomach. Tighten and tense these muscles. Tighten them further… hold this tension… and release. Relax the muscles of your trunk.

5. Finally, tighten the muscles of your face. Scrunch your eyes shut tightly, wrinkle your nose, and tighten your cheeks and chin. Hold this tension in your face… and relax. Release all the tension. Feel how relaxed your face is.

6. Notice all of the muscles in your body… notice how relaxed your muscles feel. Allow any last bits of tension to drain away. Enjoy the relaxation you are experiencing. Notice your calm breathing… your relaxed muscles… Enjoy the relaxation for a few moments.

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