How to Improve Your Sleep & Mental Health

woman on phone in bed

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.

How Much Sleep Should We Be Getting?

With so much mixed information out there, it’s hard to know how much sleep we actually need. “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.

man sleeping

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’re going to bed later on a particular night, try to wake up at your usual time regardless. This will make sure that you’re all set for the next night.

Limiting 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.

woman journaling

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 to deadlines to parties 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. “Try to avoid caffeine for eight hours before bedtime,” Motty advises. “Avoid exercise for three hours, and try to avoid eating a heavy meal too close to bedtime.”

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 journalising 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.”

Chronic Sleep Problems

Chronic sleep problems like insomnia can really impact your life. When sleep becomes a problem, it can be hard not to worry about it, but it’s also not something you can control. “Just like feeling hungry or thirsty, falling asleep is a physiological process,” Motty explains. “It’s not something we can achieve by thinking or worrying about it. We have to accept that it will happen, provided we let it happen.”

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.”

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