Welcome to Sleepopolis News’ “Sleep Diary” series. This is the first in an ongoing series of deep dives into how people’s days affect their sleep.
Dr. Kristen Casey remembers laying in bed as a child in Staten Island, NY, watching the sun slowly fade outside her bedroom curtains and realizing everyone else was in bed and happily asleep while she was wide awake.
“As I look back now I realize I had insomnia,” said Casey, a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I). “I would stay up all night because I was scared. It wasn’t the safest neighborhood and there was a lot of noise that kept me up at night. Then I would sleep during the day when there were more people around and awake.”
Casey is the founder and owner of a telehealth private practice, Evolve Psychological, and specializes in insomnia, anxiety, depression, and gender/sexuality concerns. Casey is also a contributor for House of Wise and Clinical Advisor for Dawn Health. She’s been featured in Forbes, Popsugar, Yahoo, and Bustle.
She lives in Kansas City, MO with her husband of ten years, David, and two huge german shepherds, Kota and Riley. She is working on a book that will come out in 2024 focused on insomnia and practical ways to relieve it: “The Insomnia Doc’s Guide to Restful Sleep” (Mango Publishing).
She is also the author of “Life Lessons to Master Before You Die: Practical Ways to Achieve an Authentic Living Experience.”
This is how she sleeps as told to Senior News Editor of Sleepopolis, Rose Palazzolo
I wake up at 5:30am every day. I usually go to sleep each night at 10:30pm. That’s the time frame that I have found that works with my circadian rhythm.
I have to physically get up and turn off my alarm because it is on a table top and not in arm’s reach from the bed. I then open all my windows.
Next, I take the dogs and come back in, feed them and then get to my meditation area.
Depending on how stressed I am, I meditate for about 5 to 15 minutes.
I go into my home office which has a separate corner that is my meditation corner. It has floor pillows and I sit on those, cross my legs and start reflecting. When I am meditating and notice a thought coming up, I will try to table it until my walk at the end of my day. That’s when I can think about those things and try to understand them more.
Once that is done. I leave my office and then I go into the kitchen.
I had a breakfast burrito on a tortilla with eggs, potatoes and spinach peppers onions and made David one, too.
Then I go for a two mile walk. I recommend really good walking shoes.
Sometimes I will do a one mile loop, depending on the day.
Where I live right now is just outside Kansas City. So, I walk around a residential neighborhood.
On this day, I saw six clients. They are 45 minutes each and I have an hour in between.
In between clients I will do my social media and go through my DMs.
Checking my notifications is like drinking through a water hose. I will also check my email and do that kind of stuff.
If I am on Instagram I will film videos at my desk.
Most of the time I am filming in my office.
Over the past three months, my life has been a bit different because I am working on this book. I am writing a book about the best strategies for restful sleep. A lot of the books have an academic flare, this one will be chatty and really accessible. So, I will work on this at this point.
I have been waking up and delaying my first client to 10 or 11 and then I will write in those first hours. I get writer’s block often.
When I have writer’s block I stand up and my dog, Kota, is always next to me . And If he sees me get up he will stand up and I will talk to him and have a conversation with him and it helps really focus me and helps with creativity by kind of settling me down and I will just say ‘Kristen just write one sentence.’
If the block lasts longer I will put it away and start up later.
Yesterday I wrote the most I have ever written in one day. I wrote 40 pages over a couple of hours. I had a cancellation so I had a three hour block.
This chapter is about stress and sleep and how stress impacts sleep. People of different races have different priorities with sleep health.
If you have multiple privileges it’s easy to put yourself to sleep.
Part of this book is trying to inform people that even if you are at a tough stage in your life, sleep is going to help you manage this.
I think yesterday I was on a roll with the whole Roe v Wade thing, I had been talking to a lot of my clients about that and thoughts were just bubbling.
It’s hard for everyone to access all the feelings around these kinds of happenings.
It felt like I was able to take an action step by doing this writing. So, that helped the process.
My dissertation was on burnout in healthcare grad students. I literally researched it while I was burned out. One of the things I learned is that nature exposure really aids burnout and helps with mindfulness. So, I do take walks when I feel the stress coming.
Nature exposure and just going outside is really important.
There are definitely days when clients come in with horrific experiences and tales and sometimes I definitely have some residual feelings. But I then try to go for a walk and practice some mindfulness.
This is when I get up and walk around. Sometimes I will go outside with my dogs
Today, I just sat in the sun with them. I see my last client at 6:30pm.
Sometimes I will meditate or finish up my client notes.
And then I call a friend or a family member and go for another walk with the dogs. I walk and talk on the phone for about an hour.
My life might seem pretty boring. It took me a long time to get to this place. I’m usually searching for neutrality rather than chaos or excitement.
Chicken teriyaki with rice with David. We sat at the table and ate and talked.
Then we will watch movies and sometimes he will want to go for a walk and we do that or play with the dogs outside.
Then I clean the house. It’s soothing to me. Not really vacuuming but wiping down things and putting things back in their place is soothing.
I try not to use my phone at this point. If I have laundry I have to do I will do that and I will wipe down things and empty the dishwasher.
The whole key is not being on my phone later in the evening.
I am really paying attention to doing just one thing on purpose.
It aids mindfulness.
And it helps that there is also a sense of accomplishment with this.
All of our overhead lights are off by around 8:30. I physically turn them off and it helps me mentally prepare for bed.
I then shut all the shades.
Our low lit lamps light the home at this time.
Also, there’s no loud music and if anyone takes a phone call they go outside to do that.
I used to have a TV in my room for just soft music, but I don’t have that anymore. I do listen to soft music at night. In the morning I wake up with an instrumental hip hop music type of vibe.
I try to create a really low threshold for stimulus.
I shower at this time before I get into my dark room.
The shades that came with the house are very dark thick wooden shades.
I make sure to have nothing stressful in my bedroom. Other than my Philips alarm clock which emits a light to wake me up, nothing too chaotic surrounds me at night.
It is very very dark at night in my bedroom.
I have my alarm clock about five to six feet from my bed so that I have to get up to turn it off.
On my nightstand I have one lamp with a low light bulb. No overhead lights. I also have a fan and some string lights in my room.
I don’t bring anything into my room that is not sleep-related or supportive.
I do not bring my phone into my bedroom. I do have a bunch of pillows and a bunch of blankets.
There are no loud colors in my bedroom. My room is bathed in beige and white.
I use a Perfectly Snug Cooling topper.
I have been testing new sheets. Right now I am trying out linen and bamboo. The satin ones are nice. But I have a problem with my temperature getting high overnight and I am hoping the bamboo sheets help even me out.
Kota and Riley both sleep in the bed with me and my husband.
My husband, David, was in the military and has always experienced good sleep. But he only sleeps four or five hours a night. But I do get a lot of my sleep habits from him. But in many ways our routines are separate.
But the one thing we share is that we listen to music at night.
David likes to go out for walks and works out later at night. But that’s when I get into bed.
Around 10:30 is my earliest bedtime.
I get into bed and I turn on my topper to make it cooler and try to make it really cold. In my house it’s usually 67 degrees and then I go to sleep.
If I wake up in the middle of the night I will go down in my basement and I will sit and journal.
Usually, the reason I wake up is because I am anxious about something.
It normally takes me between 10 and 20 minutes to fall asleep from me getting into bed to me falling asleep.
Last night, I got into bed, I laid down and I noticed that I had some internal cues that I was physically exhausted, but I couldn’t nod off. I just feel a lot of pressure right now in the world, in general.
I got up and got out of bed. I walked downstairs and I journaled a bit and I couldn’t even write much because I was so tired.
But then I went back to my bedroom and fell asleep within ten minutes.