5 Tips to Improve Sleep Issues
As many of us know, trying to function on just a few hours’ sleep usually results in feelings of irritability and difficulty focusing. What you may not be aware of though is just how much sleep can affect your mental health. “There are more and more studies coming out to say there’s definitely a link there”, explains Motty Varghese, Sleep Physiologist with Sleep Therapy Clinic. “20 years ago, researchers would have said that a sleep problem is a symptom of a mental health problem but now, new research is proving that the relationship is actually bidirectional” (meaning each can influence the other). So, if a good night’s sleep has been eluding you lately, Motty has some tips to help.
1. Set a Sleep Goal
Although everyone’s bodies are different, we all require roughly the same amount of sleep. “It’s variable”, says Motty, “but the recommended duration is over seven hours. What’s not advised is under six or over 10 hours, and that’s what’s most important.” If you’re going to bed late and waking up to your alarm in the morning, that’s a reasonable indicator that your sleep needs are not being fully met. Try going to bed a little earlier and note if you feel more refreshed the next morning.
2. Build Your Sleep Appetite
One of the most important things we can do for our sleep is establish a set routine. “As far as we can”, says Motty, “we should maintain a consistent bed and wake time. A wake-up time is actually more important, because that’s when our sleep drive starts building up.” So, even if you go to bed late one night, try to wake up at your usual time the next morning, regardless. This will make sure that you’re all set for the next night.
3. Limit Your Tech Exposure
Got a habit of watching TV in bed, or scrolling through feeds on your phone to switch off? It could be affecting your sleep quality. “There’s enough evidence there to say that blue light exposure will interrupt our melatonin levels, which in turn can affect our sleep,” Motty notes. “Melatonin is the sleepiness hormone, and it’s controlled by the amount of light we’re exposed to. We all have a natural action called ‘dim light melatonin onset (DLMO)’, that begins two hours before we sleep”. What this means is that our bodies naturally start producing melatonin before bed, provided the light is dim enough. So, it makes sense to give yourself the best possible chance of a good night’s sleep by eliminating any kind of blue light exposure in the couple of hours before bedtime.
4. Cut Out the Stimulants Before Bed
It might take a little time to get your sleep back on track and, let’s face it, anything from kids and deadlines to work and socialising can mess up your routine. When that happens, try not to stress about it and focus instead on some of the practical things you can do to re-establish a routine. “Avoid caffeine for eight hours before bedtime,” Motty advises. “Don’t exercise for three hours before and try not to eat a heavy meal too close to bedtime.”
5. Put Your Day to Bed
If you have anxious tendencies, it’s likely you have a bit more trouble getting to sleep. Motty suggests ‘putting your day to bed’ before you retire for the night. “It’s a good idea to do some journaling in the evening if you’re anxious about certain things. Try to rationalise your worries and analyse how bad the situation is - or if it’s bad at all.” The best time for journaling is late afternoon or evening. “By doing this you basically put your day to bed, before retiring more relaxed in the evening at your regular time.”
With sleep playing such an important role in your mental health, getting a quality night’s shut-eye is simply good self-care. If you’re struggling, there is specialist help available – see more about Sleep Therapy Clinic’s offering here. “Remember”, says Motty, “every night is a fresh opportunity for sleep.”