How to sleep your way to better mental health
Regularly getting a good night’s sleep can be hugely beneficial to your mental health. Here are some tips to help you develop a good sleep routine.
On average, we spend about one third of our lives asleep.
Not only is sleep essential for your physical health, it can be key to maintaining good mental health. If you are constantly struggling with fatigue you’ll be unable to perform to the best of your abilities, both physically and mentally.
When it comes to sleep and health, there can be a vicious cycle – not only does poor sleep often lead to poor physical and mental health, poor physical and mental health can also lead to poor sleep. For example, a lack of sleep may lead to worrying, which in turn may further impact upon your sleep. People suffering from problems sleeping are also more likely feel anxious or depressed, feel lonely or isolated, will be overall less resilient and find it harder to cope with the stresses of daily life.
It’s therefore important to ensure that you get the right amount of sleep, and that the sleep you get is of good quality. So how do you go about it?
Below you’ll find some simple steps to help you to establish a good sleep routine.
Set the scene
There are a range of things you can do to prepare and get your mind and body ready for sleep. You might relax with a warm bath, a gentle yoga routine or a short meditation. You might read a book or listen to a relaxing music or the ambient noise, meditation tracks or sleep sounds available through apps such as Calm and Headspace. It’s also important to make sure your bedroom is a suitably relaxing environment, with a comfortable mattress, at a temperature that’s ideally between 18 and 24C and suitably dark and quiet (try an eye mask and ear plugs if not).
Develop the habit
Going to bed at night and getting up at the same time in the morning every day will programme your brain and your internal body clock and help you to sleep better. Choose a bedtime when you’re likely to feel sleepy and try to stick to it as often as possible. Most adults need about 6 to 9 hours of sleep a night. Work out what time you need to wake to get the amount of sleep you need and then get out of bed at that time on a regular basis. You should also try to avoid oversleeping, as this can disrupt your routine and leave you feeling fatigued.
No screens before bed
The blue light that’s emitted by devices such as mobile phones restricts the production of melatonin, the hormone that controls your sleep-wake cycle, making it harder for you to fall asleep and wake the next day. There’s also the issue of the stimulus that your mobile provides through the content you consume and the notifications you receive. Try to avoid looking at your phone for at least 30 minutes before going to bed and if you use your phone as an alarm clock, keep it on airplane mode to avoid being disturbed.
Cut down on caffeine
In the UK we drink approximately 98 million cups of coffee per day, that’s roughly two person. Many of us have come to rely on a caffeinated pick-me-up to get going in the morning and help relieve the post-lunch slump. That’s because the average cup of coffee contains from 95 to 200mg of caffeine, a natural psychoactive stimulant. Caffeine works by blocking the brain’s chemical sleep-promoting process and it can also interfere with your circadian rhythm – the internal clock that tells you when to go to sleep at night and when to wake in the morning.
Caffeine’s effects are measured by its half-life – the time it takes your body to metabolise half of the amount you consumed – which typically ranges from 4 to 6 hours, meaning that caffeine from your post-lunch coffee may still be in your body by bedtime. To ensure it’s not affecting your sleep, try to avoid coffee in the afternoon, or switch to decaf.
And it’s not just coffee you might need to avoid; remember that tea (including green tea) and fizzy drinks such as cola, can also contain large amounts of caffeine.
Alcohol is another substance that can affect sleep and might be best avoided within a couple of hours of your bedtime. Whilst it may initially help you fall asleep, even just a couple of drinks can negatively impact the quality of your sleep when you do drop off. An evening drinking session of more than six units (two pints of beer or two large glasses of wine), can make you spend more time in deep sleep and less time than usual in the important restorative Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage. This can leave you feeling tired the next day, no matter how long you’ve been in bed. Alcohol can also lead to a disturbed night’s sleep, making you wake more to go to the toilet, and it can make you snore, which may disturb the sleep of those around you.
Eat well to sleep well
It’s not just what you drink that matters, a balanced diet containing the recommended daily intake of vitamins and nutrients is good for your physical and mental health and can help you sleep better. It’s also suggested that high-carbohydrate intake can increase the number of times you wake at night and therefore reduce the quality of your sleep. When you eat is equally important: consuming large meals too close to your bedtime can make it harder to fall asleep.
Regular exercise offers a range of well-known benefits to your body and mind, and keeping fit can also play a role in determining the amount and quality of your sleep. There are a range of direct ways in which exercise can improve your sleep. It can tire the body and increase the pressure to sleep that builds naturally through the day. It can also shorten the time it takes you to fall asleep at night and reduce how tired you feel during the day – which in turn helps you stick to a more healthy sleep routine.
- Make sure your surroundings are suitably comfortable for sleep.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime
- Eat a balanced diet and avoid large meals just before sleep.
- Exercise regularly.
- No screens at least 30 minutes before sleep.
- Consult a doctor if you are having serious issues sleeping.
Still struggling? Speak to your doctor
If you are having trouble sleeping and basic techniques such as those listed above don’t help, there may be an underlying issue at cause and you should consult your GP or doctor.
- About mental health and sleep – Mind
- How to sleep better – Mental Health Foundation
- Alcohol and sleep – Drink Aware
- Nutrition and sleep – The Sleep Foundation
- Exercise and Sleep – The Sleep Foundation
- How to get a good sleep – NHS
- How to empty your stress bucket – ICAS webinar with Gin Lali (icas.com log in required)
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