Sleep is essential to maintaining physical and mental wellbeing however, getting a good night sleep is often easier said than done. Our sleep often suffers when we have poor mental health or feel ill, and in turn poor sleep makes us feel worse. This cycle must be broken so we can return to our healthiest selves. This article will explore what could be causing your poor sleep and the ways you can fix it.
What causes poor sleep?
There are many reasons why we may be suffering with poor sleep. It can be caused by mental health issues such as stress, anxiety, or depression. Or it could be from poor physical health such as an illness or a health condition relating to sleep, called ‘sleep disorders’ (such as insomnia, sleep apnea etc). Medication can also affect your sleep. There are many other factors that can have an effect on sleep such as life-style choices like working nightshifts or being a parent or carer. These causes are not mutually exclusive as insomnia can often lead to depression and both could then effect your sleep. It is important to understand what exactly is keeping you from healthy sleep so that you can tackle this problem head-on.
How does poor sleep affect us?
In turn of these factors causing poor sleep, an unhealthy sleeping pattern can make these factors worse creating a never-ending cycle. Poor sleep can impact our mental health and make symptoms of anxiety and depression worse. It can worsen our moods making us irritable and foggy as our brain and body haven’t been properly rested. Eric Suni has explored the effects of sleep on our brain activity and concludes that poor sleep impacts our ability to concentrate and process emotional information.
As sleep is so essential to our physical and mental wellbeing, how do we establish, and stick to, a healthy sleeping pattern?
Create a sleep schedule: Note down which areas of sleep you struggle with and what may be affecting it. With these notes, create a schedule with which to tackle it. For example, if you struggle with putting your phone or laptop away, write in your schedule to turn all electronics off at a certain time. Creating your own schedule and sticking to it will help establish these practices as habit and make any future negative impacts on your sleep harder to take hold.
Relax before sleep: In your sleep schedule, come up with some relaxing and calming activities that will help your body and brain recognise that it is time to sleep. For example: read a book, take a bath, put on some comfortable pyjamas, meditate and practice breathing exercises.
Create a comfortable sleep environment: In order to sleep soundly, we must feel safe and comfortable. Consider how you can make your bedroom more sleep friendly, for example by buying new bedding or making sure the room is at 18 degree Celsius, the ideal temperature for sleep.
No screens: Screens and the entertainment they hold keep our brains active, even after we have turned them off. For more information, see Scott et.al (2019) which examines the impact of screen time at night on young people. Make sure that you turn off all screens at least an hour before sleep and instead start your night-time routine.
Look after yourself: As we saw above, your mental and physical health have a large impact on your sleep. Try looking after yourself by exercising regularly, eating good healthy food, and practicing positive self-talk.
Avoid caffeine and nicotine: Caffeine effects your body for hours after you have consumed it, keeping your brain active and awake. Make sure that you don’t have any caffeine, nicotine, or any other substance that keep your brain awake for at least 6 hours before you plan to sleep. For more information see Sleep Education’s article on the effects on caffeine on sleep.
Go to sleep when you are tired: Often when we are frustrated with our poor sleep patterns, we force ourselves to go to sleep well before our normal bedtime and end up lying awake for hours getting more and more angry with our inability to fall asleep. Try noting when you feel tired and plan your night-time schedule around this time so your head hits the pillow when you are ready to sleep.
Don’t watch the clock at night: Counting the hours go by whilst you lay awake will only make you frustrated and angry. Try keeping an alarm clock and facing the time away from your bed slightly so you can’t keep checking the time.
Use light: Exposing yourself to daylight during the day, and limiting light exposure at night will help you better appreciate when it is time to be awake and active and when it is time to sleep. This can be hard as we head into the winter months, and if this does affect you, consider buying a daylight lamp which simulates natural daylight.
Making small changes in your sleeping habits will have a huge impact. 8 hours sleep may sound impossible to you now but trying out a couple of the tips outlined above will help you break any bad habits that may be influencing your sleep.
If poor sleep persists and becomes worse, it is important to speak to your doctor as this may be a sign of a health condition relating to sleep.
Poor mental health and poor sleep go hand-in-hand so it is important to speak to those you trust for support in these times. At MindSpace we have trusted and highly skilled licensed therapists available 24 hours a day. We can help you take the steps to improve your life, no matter what challenges you are facing in complete confidence. Get some MindSpace, call us on 0207 553 5010.