Do you find yourself lying in bed scrolling until well after you planned to be asleep? Do you lie in bed with racing thoughts, anxious that you won’t get enough sleep but unable to get a wink? How many times have you watched ‘just one more episode’ instead of getting some shut eye? If you have said yes to any of these questions, you are certainly not alone. What you might not know is that our sleep plays a vital role in our mental health. Poor sleep is linked to poor current and future mental health, for example increases in depression, and a decreased ability to regulate emotions. Good sleep hygiene is one of the cornerstones of health and wellbeing, and the good news is that there are plenty of things you can do to increase your chances of getting a good night of rest.
Develop a sleep schedule
Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning to promote a regular circadian rhythm, our natural sleep-wake cycle.
Do some form of physical activity each day for a minimum of 30 minutes, such as walking, yoga, or running. This will promote rest, and the best part is that exercise has many other health benefits, as has been shown to improve mental health.
As much as we all love coffee and tea, it’s best that you don’t drink caffeinated drinks in the afternoon and evening as they are stimulants that not only affect whether you fall asleep, but also the quality of your sleep.
Not only are they distractions that seem to make time disappear, but there is evidence that the blue light produced by electronic screens delays the production of melatonin, our brain’s natural sleep inducing hormone. Charge your phone on the other side of the room, or even better in another room, and try to have an hour or two of screen free time before you plan to sleep.
Everyone loves a nap, but if you are finding it hard to wind down each night it might be time to ditch the day sleeping. If you do feel like you need a quick sleep, keep it to a minimum.
Develop a wind down routine
Get your body and mind ready for the sleep ahead. This might include a shower and reading, some gentle stretching, or some active relaxation such as mindfulness or relaxation music.
Create an environment that encourages sleep
Create a room that is dark and cool, wear comfortable clothing, and use good quality breathable bedding to create an optimal environment for slumber. Being too warm can interfere with a good night’s sleep.
Start a journal
If you find that you are lying in bed with thoughts that you can’t seem to switch off, starting a journal might help. Using a journal as a ‘brain dump’ as part of your winddown routine may help you to process the thoughts and set them aside so that you can sleep soundly.
If, after trying all of these things, you are still finding that you are preoccupied with thoughts that are interfering with your sleep on a regular basis, seeing a counsellor may help.