What comes first, poor sleep or poor mental health? It's not always easy to know because they both impact each other. Not sleeping well on a consistent basis can lead to mental health challenges, such as depression and anxiety, and having mental health challenges can also negatively impact our sleep. It can turn into a vicious cycle, making each day and night very challenging.
Good quality sleep is so important! It is when we sleep that our bodies have the chance to heal and repair. A good example is when we get sick, we tend to sleep more. When we allow ourselves to rest, it gives our body a better chance at healing faster. It is also when we sleep that we fully process emotions and memories, storing them away for later. This is why getting a good night's rest before a big exam is going to be more beneficial for memory recall than staying up all night studying.
Since sleep is so important for our brains and bodies, we need to find ways to improve our sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene includes habits and practices that improve sleep quality on a regular basis.
7 ways to improve your sleep hygiene include:
Removing blue light for at least 30 minutes before bed, but an hour to two hours is most beneficial. Blue light includes phones, TVs and any electronics that emit blue light. Blue light suppresses the release of melatonin, which is a hormone that helps us sleep.
Creating a regular night time routing can alert our body that it’s time to wind down. Maybe you’d like to wash your face, brush your teeth, and then do some gentle yoga before getting into bed. Whatever it is, make it something simple enough that you can do it each night before bed.
Irregular sleep patterns not only impact your quality of sleep, they also impact your mood throughout the day. Having regular sleep and wake times and doing your best to get a minimum of 7-8 hours of sleep can greatly improve your mental health.
White noise, such as sound machines or fans can be very soothing and help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep. It may also reduce anxiety.
Light directly impacts sleep because it impacts the circadian rhythm. Light filtering into the room while you’re trying to sleep alerts the body’s internal clock that it’s time to wake up, even before you're ready. Light also impacts the release of melatonin. If you have street lights that shine through your window, or sleep during day hours due to your job, black out curtains may just be your new best friend.
Reading, meditating or journaling can be a great addition to your nighttime routine. Journaling gets all those thoughts that like to roll around in your brain onto paper, so there’s less bombarding you while you try to sleep. Reading and meditation also can relax the body and prepare you for a good night’s rest.
It should go without saying, but coffee and alcohol can both disrupt your sleep. The caffeine in coffee and some teas can cause you to feel wired. Alcohol, although many turn to it to help wind down at night, causes an imbalance in our sleep cycles throughout the night, and decreases the overall sleep quality.
Seven things is A LOT to change all at once, so if you're really struggling in the sleep department, start slow. Choose just one thing that feels manageable to change, and once that feels more natural, move onto the next. :)
*This blog is intended for educational purposes only. If you have serious concerns about your sleep and/or your mental health, or if your sleep troubles are related to a health condition, please consult with your primary care doctor.