Are you having trouble falling asleep, or maintaining sleep? Do you find it difficult to get out of bed even after 8 hours sleep? The following resource outlines the impact of sleep on your mental health and some great general tips that can help you better your sleeping habits. Understanding and improving your sleep allows you to function and flourish.
This stuff is important! Poor or insufficient sleep has been linked to negative mental health consequences (e.g., depression, anxiety, excessive fatigue, and confusion) and adverse health outcomes (e.g., obesity, cardiac disease, respiratory disorders and suicidality). And while sleep issues are often a symptom of mental health concerns, it is certainly the case that a focused attempt at improving your sleep can reduce the impact of your presenting issue. Even for those free of mental health challenges, improving your sleep quality is linked to increased productivity, emotional intelligence and mood.
If you suffer from sleeping difficulties you are not alone! Research has found that up to 1/3 of all people suffer from clinical insomnia symptoms. So, having established that sleep is important and poor sleeping habits are rampant… let’s do something about it! Across my 27 years of experience as a psychologist, I have worked with countless people who come to me with an issue (e.g., depression, anxiety, stress etc.) and the simple addition of good sleep practices can make a world of difference.
- The first general tip is having a bed time and wake time consistent across every day of the week. This can be difficult with work, family and education so try at least to form a 30-to-60-minute window for going to sleep and for waking up. If you usually go to bed on a week night at 10:30 but stay up till midnight on the weekend, try and make it a priority that you’re in bed ready to sleep between 10:30pm-11:30pm every night. Likewise, if you wake up for work at 6:30am, aim to have your alarm set between 6:30am-7:30am regardless of whether it’s a weekday or the weekend. By doing this, you are training your body’s circadian rhythm (your internal alarm clock for bed-time and awake-time) to know that by 11pm it should be releasing the sleep hormone melatonin to make us fall asleep, and by 6:30am, cortisol to wake us up in the morning.
- The second tip we recommend is turning off screens at least 30 minutes before bed. Most of the screens we look at (Tv, phones, laptops, Kindles etc) emit blue light – something which boosts our alertness, directly effecting our circadian rhythm. By putting these devices down well before our bedtime, our minds are able to relax, further promoting the release of the sleep hormone, melatonin.
- Do you shower right before bed? If you don’t, this is an easy and worthwhile tip! Going from warm water into a cooler room causes your body temperature to drop. It just so happens that when our body temperature drops, we naturally release increased amounts of melatonin. So, by having a warm shower just before bed you will be capitalising on this natural release of melatonin, helping you feel ready to hit the pillow.
- It goes without saying that caffeine and highly sugary foods and drinks should not be consumed within the hours before bed. Research shows that it takes 8 hours for caffeine to be broken down in our bodies. This means a coffee after dinner could affect your sleep all the way into the early hours of the next morning. It is therefore important to not be consuming caffeinated drinks much past afternoon tea, and if you do have any sugary drinks or dessert, have them as early into the evening as possible.
- Another tip we recommend to have a restful night’s sleep is to limit eating at least 2 hours before bed. When we eat our digestive system gets to work digesting and processing the food we’ve consumed. This requires many systems in our body to wake up in order to properly process what we’ve eaten. So, avoid eating 2 hours before bed, otherwise you’re inadvertently telling your body that it’s time to be awake!
If you have tried everything above and more, yet still find it hard to get a goodnights sleep, you don’t have to deal with this alone, help is available. Prioritise your sleep and enjoy a richer life.