Words by Clinical Psychologist Dr Anna Suraev
It is a well-researched idea that getting a good night’s sleep has enormous benefits for your physical and mental health. Sleep serves a variety of restorative functions in the body and the brain that help to consolidate memory and learning, boost the immune system, repair tissue, and recharge the cardiovascular system (to name a few!).
“Not getting enough sleep or having disrupted sleep can greatly impact your mental health”
Not getting enough sleep or having disrupted sleep can greatly impact your mental health. Since the brain does not get a chance to recharge properly, you may be more likely to feel irritable, struggle to regulate your emotions, experience food cravings, have reduced concentration, feel more anxious, or get stuck in unhelpful thinking patterns.
Developing a good sleep routine can make you feel more resilient in the face of day-to-day stress, as well as help you learn more effectively, manage your emotions better, improve your memory, and increase creativity.
Below are a number tips to help improve your sleep routine, also referred to as “sleep hygiene”:
- Regular routine Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day (even on weekends!). Establish a regular bedtime routine, such as turning down the lights, having a warm bath before bed, doing light stretches, or reading. When possible, avoid emotionally upsetting conversations or activities before your bedtime.
- Avoiding technology or bright lights– Avoid screen time for at least 30 minutes before bed as digital displays and LEDs can interfere with the production of sleep hormones and increase wakefulness.
- Comfortable space – Ensure your room is quiet and comfortable, the room temperature is cool, you have enough blankets to stay warm, and have curtains or an eye mask to block out early morning light.
- Bed is for sleeping – Keep your bed for sleeping only and avoid engaging in other activities (e.g. watching TV, doing work) on the bed, so that the body associates it with rest and sleepiness.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, & nicotine – Avoid these substances at least 4-6 hours before bed as they can act as stimulants and interfere with falling and staying asleep.
- Try not to nap – Avoid napping during the day as this makes it harder to fall asleep at night, as you will be less tired. If you do nap, keep it shorter than an hour and before 3pm.
- Get up if you can’t sleep – If you are struggling to fall asleep, leave the bed after 30 minutes and do a quiet and calm activity (e.g. reading or doing a crossword) with the lights dimmed until you feel sleepy again and then return to bed. Try to not use screens or watch TV.
- Leave the clock alone – If you are struggling to fall asleep, try to avoid watching the clock as this can increase anxiety about not being able to fall asleep, such as calculating how many hours are left before you have to wake up.
- Exercise – Regular exercise can help to improve your sleep. For some people, it is best to avoid strenuous exercise in the four hours before bedtime.
- Managing worries and a busy mind – Our minds often take the opportunity at bedtime to start to run through the contents of the day or fixate on worries. Mindfulness exercises such as focusing attention on the breath or doing a mindful body scan, can help bring about a greater sense of calm and relaxation, as well as reduce focus on unhelpful thoughts.
Issues with sleep can at times serve as a signal that we are struggling with stress (e.g. work, relationships, big decisions, changes), or we are experiencing other mental health issues such as anxiety or depression.