One of the biggest reasons patients don’t sleep well is because they have not learned how to relax. In our culture of do more, make more money and amass more things, many of our patients have forgotten how to take time for themselves.

I am often amazed at the things people say they do before bedtime. Activities range from doing household chores and getting things ready for the next day, to paying bills and checking stocks on the computer. Most have forgotten how to let their bodies prepare for sleep by doing relaxing activities.

Meditation is a good way to end the day, and a formal practice isn’t necessary. Finding a quiet place to sit, away from technology and gadgets, and simply being still is fine.

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If patients report difficulty turning off the thoughts from their day, suggest that they use this time to make notes. Just a simply writing down thoughts can give them confidence they need to forget about something that is cluttering their mind.

Talking with a spouse can be another relaxing way to end the day, and it also strengthens relationships. But be sure to remind patients that before bed may not be the best time to work through troubling issues, as this can prevent sleep.

Encourage couples to try alternating back rubs after their nightly conversations. It’s fun and reduces stress. As healthcare providers, we sometimes tend to shy away from discussing sex with our patients, but sex is great stress reliever and improves sleep. So, don’t be afraid to suggest this! Taking a long, warm bath before bed is another technique thats soothes tired muscles and relaxes the mind.

Progressive muscle relaxation is an exercise that consists of focusing on a particular body part, and flexing and relaxing the muscle. Consider giving your patients a quick lesson on this technique, or simply provide a hand out with the appropriate steps. Patients should start at their feet and work upward to the forehead.

Daily relaxation before bed should become part of your patients’ regular routine. Emphasize the regenerative properties of sleep and the consequences chronic sleep deprivation. Finally, remind patients that consistency pays off when attempting to start new habits.

Sharon M. O’Brien, MPAS, PA-C, works at Presbyterian Sleep Health in Charlotte, N.C. Her main interest is helping patients understand the importance of sleep hygiene and the impact of sleep on health.