You’re in bed watching the clock and counting down the hours until you have to face another busy day. You’ve been tossing and turning and just can’t get to sleep. Now you’re feeling stressed about how little you’ve slept and how you’ll manage on zero sleep. Sleep is extremely important for both our physical and mental health; however, getting a good night’s sleep consistently is easier said than done.
Sleep is crucial for supporting mood, energy, the immune system, the circulatory system, hormonal functions, learning, and memory. While we are asleep, we undergo processes that repair our systems and get rid of toxins. A lack of sleep is correlated to an increased risk of disease, poor immunity, and weight gain. Poor sleep is also associated with a greater risk of anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation. Individuals who do not get enough sleep have greater difficulty with regulating their emotions, experience more negative emotions, and are more likely to respond poorly to minor stressors.
A common misconception is that people can make up for a lack of sleep on weekdays by sleeping more on weekends. In reality, individuals who get inadequate sleep during weekdays but sleep more on weekends were shown to have the same poor health outcomes as those who got inadequate sleep on weekdays and weekends.
While it does take some effort, we can improve our sleep. By working on our sleep habits, we can create a consistent routine that enables us to improve our sleep quantity and quality every night of the week.
Enhance your sleep quality with these effective sleep hygiene practices
- Set a consistent sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. Create a schedule that works for you, and consider whether you are an early riser or someone who prefers staying up late. Getting accustomed to your new schedule may be difficult at first, but over time, it will become easier to fall asleep at that set time.
- Exercise during the day. Exercising improves sleep quality. Exercising in the morning has been shown to make it easier to fall asleep earlier at night, while exercising at night is associated with staying awake longer. Choose an exercise that you enjoy and for a length of time that feels achievable.
- Only use your bed for sleep. Avoid working, reading, watching TV, and going on your phone before bed. Only get into your bed when you are feeling tired and about to fall asleep. Your body will then learn to associate your bed with sleep, making it easier for you to fall asleep.
- If you can’t sleep, leave your bedroom. Staying in bed when you’re having trouble sleeping will cause you to associate your bed with not being able to sleep. If you get into bed and haven’t fallen asleep after about 20 minutes, leave your room and try a relaxing activity such as reading in dim light, meditating, journaling, or listening to calming music. Do this until you feel more relaxed, and then get into bed and attempt to sleep again.
- Take a bath. Taking a bath before bedtime causes your body temperature to rise and then fall naturally. A decrease in body temperature signals to your body that it’s time to fall asleep.
- Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol 4-6 hours before you go to bed. Many people believe that alcohol improves their sleep, but it actually worsens sleep quality and is best to avoid before bed. While alcohol has sedating effects that can help you fall asleep quickly, it negatively impacts overall sleep quality. As liver enzymes metabolize the alcohol, people experience sleep disruptions and a reduction in REM sleep.
- Turn off electronics at least one hour before bed. Plan relaxing activities you can do before bed instead of watching TV or going on social media. Journaling, reading, listening to calming music, meditating, taking a bath, and gentle stretching are examples of activities you can do before bedtime.
- Avoid large meals before bed. Eating a big meal before you go to sleep can cause indigestion and can inhibit sleep. On the flip side, not eating enough can cause hunger, which can also disrupt sleep. If you feel hungry, have a light snack at night, such as warm milk, fruit, herbal tea, or yogurt.
- Optimize your sleeping environment. It is optimal for your bedroom to be a bit cooler than room temperature (16-20˚C), with lots of blankets to stay warm. If you are sensitive to light, work to have your room be completely dark. White noise or pink noise can also help with sleep. There are several apps that play these sounds.
If you are experiencing persistent insomnia, the help of an expert may be required. Cognitive behavioural therapy and naturopathic medicine are both effective treatments for insomnia. Sometimes, sleep difficulties are a symptom of another mental health concern. Addressing underlying mental health difficulties can help to improve sleep as well.
By prioritizing and consistently working on improving sleep habits, you can enhance your overall health and well-being, setting the stage for more restful nights and fulfilling days ahead.
Take the first step towards better sleep. Schedule your free adult individual therapy session today.