Most people don’t realize the importance of sleep for their psychological well-being. While you sleep, your body is at work repairing pain, stress, anxiety, stabilizing your mood, improving your immune system and processing the knowledge you have gained throughout the day. We often don’t appreciate that our body needs time for itself at night to do it’s nightly repair work. It has been reported that forty-six percent of Canadians cut hours from their sleep so that they can get more done during the day. We tend not to realize, the value of that nightly work in order to function most efficiently when awake.
When my clients first begin counselling, I check in with them on their sleeping patterns as I often find that anxiety and depression symptoms are exasperated by lack of sleep. Not only does worrying and life distress lead to sleep disruption, but it works both ways: lack of sleep can impact your mental health. Lack of adequate nightly sleep can lead to increased feelings of stress, frustration, irritability, anger, difficulty concentrating and health problems. When you feel any of these symptoms it is a good idea to check in with how you have been sleeping. Listed below are some tips and facts about sleep to help you improve your sleeping patterns.
Napping 101: Take short naps rather than long naps and always set an alarm. An optimal nap is between 15-30. Learn the right amount of time for yourself by noticing when you feel rested rather than sluggish after a certain amount of sleep. Napping for too long will lead to grogginess afterwards. Always aim to nap at least 5 hours before your bed time.
Sleep Schedule: Stick to a set time for sleeping and waking. Even on weekends! Based on your work schedule, a sleeping schedule should be determined and then a daily alarm should be set for seven days a week. Resist the urge to sleep in on holidays and weekends, as this will disrupt your pattern. If you find your are sleeping in too late in the day, it will be important to slowly change the time of your alarm by half hour earlier intervals every few days until you reach your desired wake up time. Your body will eventually adjust to this new pattern and you will start to fall asleep earlier.
Amount of Sleep: Most adults need between 7-8 hours of sleep. Be mindful of how many hours you need to get you through your day and make an effort to stick to this number when creating a sleep schedule.
The Bedroom: If you are having a hard time sleeping, it is wise to reserve the use of your bed for sleep and intimacy only. Do other activities such as watching tv or lounging outside of the bedroom. By limiting the use of your bed, your body will begin to associate your bedroom with restful sleep. Try and think of new places to do other activities in different rooms.
Get Out of Bed: If you are having trouble falling asleep for more than 20 minutes, get out of bed for a few minutes to change your environment. Try something like walking to the kitchen for a drink of water or reading in an armchair for a few minutes.
Technology: Don’t look at your cell phone or computer while in bed. The information processed on electronic equipment is very fast and it will speed up your mind. Instead try reading for a few minutes as this is a slower paced activity and will actually help slow down your mind and relax your body.
Cut the Caffeine! Reduce your caffeine intake, especially close to bedtime. Limit yourself to one caffeine drink in the morning, if necessary, and stick to non-caffeinated drinks in the afternoons and evenings. Switch to herbal teas and cut out soft drinks. Overtime as your sleep improves, you may want to consider eliminating caffeine all together as it can be a factor in increasing overall anxiety. Alcohol, nicotine and marijuana are also linked to difficulties staying asleep and it would be a good idea to reduce these substances as well.
Relaxation Techniques: Often people have difficulty getting to sleep because their mind is racing with many thoughts. Taking a few deep breaths, taking a warm bath or integrate mindfulness or yoga techniques as part of a wind down time before you get into bed can help calm your mind.
Put Pen to Paper: If you find yourself worried about something, turn the lights on and write about your thoughts. This will help you feel less worried and may help you resolve the concerns at hand. Journaling is a great way to reduce anxiety and sort through the multitude of thoughts we have in our mind from our day.
Try to stick to a few of these changes for 2-3 weeks and you are sure to see some improvement in your sleep and energy levels! You can even keep a sleep diary for a few weeks to track what tips work for you and to notice changes in your sleep and mood. Pay attention to things that you may be doing during that day that may be interfering with your sleep and take time to reflect or attend counselling to work through any personal issues that may be contributing to keeping you awake.