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mental health and importance of sleep

A step by step guide to better sleep hygiene

Yesterday we talked about the benefits of sleep hygiene, today we’re going to go more in depth into how to improve your sleep hygiene and come out feeling more energised and happier because of it.

It may seem impossible to get any sleep when you’re awake at 3am tossing and turning under your bed sheets but a good nights sleep is well within reach, you just need to mix up your pre-bed routine, and we’re not talking massive pain-staking changes here, the tiniest changes can make all the difference. These tips are especially useful if you suffer from insomnia, jet lag shift work, anxiety or depression.

Caffeine
This is probably the most notorious offender. A lot of people, most notably students hit the coffee all day long to try and keep their mind alert for a variety of reasons but the caffeine from even a single coffee can stay in your system for up to 6 hours so it’s important to take that into consideration and cut out your caffeine intake during the late afternoon. Bear in mind though that even some chocolates and painkillers have a considerable amount of caffeine in them, don’t let it sneak up on you! While they don’t have caffeine, tobacco/cigarettes are also classed as a stimulant, so avoid these too.

Sleep Environment
It’s important that the space you go to place is a calm and peaceful environment. Avoid watching TV or playing video games in your bedroom as you may subconsciously associate the room with things other than sleep and even this will give you trouble when you try to drift off, it’s important to strengthen the mental connection between your bedroom and sleep. White noise or calming music can help reduce background noise if there is any. Using blackout shades or an eyemask can help reduce the light levels in the room as light is a powerful cue to the brain that it’s not the right time to go to sleep and if you have a pet that regularly wakes you up at night, you may want to consider keeping it in a different room.

Pre-sleep Routines
For a good half hour or so before you go to bed it’s important to get into the right mental state and ease the transition from wake time to sleep time. Doing things like taking a bath can help prepare you mentally for this as the rise and then fall of body temperature helps promote drowsiness. Reading a book or practicing relaxation excercise are also solid choices. The key takeaway here is to avoid stressful activities that release the hormone cortisol which is associated with increasing alertness so avoid work or discussing emotional issues.

Go to sleep when you’re actually tired
Going to bed when you’re not actually is just asking for failure, it’s important that your body actually needs to go to sleep when you hit the hay. Struggling to fall asleep will lead to frustration, which will lead to stress which will lead to further struggle. If you’re not asleep after about 20 minutes, get up, go outside and do something and do something relaxing like reading or listening to calming music until you actually feel tired. Anecdotally, you may find that blinking repeatedly for a solid minute or tires the muscles in your eyes allowing you to fall asleep faster.

Avoid looking at clocks
Staring a clock and counting how long it’s taking you to fall asleep is actually very counterproductive, it’s actually been shown to increase stress and make falling asleep even harder. Turn your clock’s face away from you.

Natural light
This is more for people who struggle to just get up and go in the mornings, if you sleep with the curtains open it allows the natural light to enter the room and wake you up naturally. Your body is subconsciously on an internal timer that goes along with the amount of sunlight you’re receiving so get outside and take a stroll in the sunlight on your lunch at work for a small energy boost. Side tip – the reduced daylight hours in the winter is the reason you might notice a dip in energy and mood through the winter making this tip even more important.

Woman sleeping

Improving mental health with proper sleep hygiene

Sleep hygiene. This is the term given to your night time rituals and bed time routine. If you want to get a better nights sleep, the answer often lies in your bed time habits and how you set yourself up for a decent nights sleep.

Sleep is as important to our health as eating and drinking, It allows our bodies to repair themselves and our brains to consolidate our memories and process information. Poor sleep has been linked to physical problems like a weakened immune system as well as mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Your sleep hygiene can be improved through a few simple steps such as adjusting light, reducing noise and temperature.

So what is sleep hygiene? The nitty-gritty of it is that what you do for a period of time before you go to sleep as well as the environment in which you sleep all matter a great deal. For example, pulling all nighters through the week and then sleeping in on the weekend to pay off your ‘sleep debt’ is bad sleep hygiene. On the mother hand, having a regular sleeping schedule and avoiding caffeine late at night are good examples of sleep hygiene.

Even minor improvements in your sleep hygiene can provide massively improved returns in the quality of sleep that you get each night, and reviewing your bed time habits should be the first thing you do when you start having troubles getting a solid 8 hours each night. Sleep hygiene is even an integral part of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) used to treat insomnia, anxiety and depression. You already know sleep is important, you wouldn’t be reading this article otherwise, quality sleep on a regular schedule is critical to maintaining balanced emotional, physical and mental health and help you become more positive and productive through the day.

For a quick guide, this is a simple run down of what you need for good sleep hygiene:

  • Temperature – A cool room that is neither too hot nor too cold
  • Darkness – Darker is always better
  • Quieter – The less noise, the less distraction, however white noise can be used to drown out any background noise you may have.
  • Comfort – You’ll struggle to get to sleep at all if you aren’t comfortable
improving mental health

A suitable environment in which to sleep is key for good sleep hygiene

Reducing Anxiety with a Morning Routine

Waking up in the morning and breaking free of the cozy warmth of your blanket may be one of the most difficult things you do each day when you’re struggling with your mental health. Thoughts about all the things you need to do today flood your mind and you feel overwhelmed before you’ve even opened your eyes so you hit the snooze button on your alarm once more.

The next time you come around from your slumber you check the time just to realise you’ve overslept. You’re running late. You jolt out of bed in a blind panic and rush into the day.

This probably sounds familiar to you but mornings are not by definition a challenge and can be made to be a pleasant enjoyable part of your day. The key is to keep your first waking hour consistent.

Every time you’re faced with a decision, you spend time and energy thinking about the resolution or answer to that decision and when you’re starting the day it’s important to avoid this sort of mental fatigue. This can easily be achieved with a simple morning routine.

Having a constructive morning routine can help ease you into the day and prepare you for any challenges you may face in the late morning and afternoon. This period can help build up mental momentum, productivity and positivity by building up to the brains peak time for cognitive work. Here are some suggestions to make your mornings easier.

It’s easier to wake up when you aren’t rushing to wake up. When you allocate yourself time to lay in bed and slowly adjust, you’ll feel more motivated to open your eyes and allow your body to get into gear. Give yourself a few minutes of laziness and then follow these steps:

-Open your curtains, natural light helps to improve your mood and increase your energy and alertness for the entire day. You may have noticed, if you’ve ever been camping, that being woken up by the sun is a much more pleasant experience than being woken up by any alarm.

-Once your awake put your favourite spotify playlist or radio on, music lights up the whole brain.

-Get stretching, increasing the blood flow to your muscles to get them ready to go.

If you’re honest with yourself, you’d probably agree that this isn’t much to ask and can really help you get your day started on the right foot. If you’re feeling really adventurous why not go for quick jog around the block, even just a walk to the end of the street and back? Science has repeatedly shown that frequent excercise, no matter how small, directly correlates with an increase in happiness.

It’s important to get a morning routine started, no matter how simple, you can even incorporate your drive or work to work as part of it. As an example, here’s a simple morning routine:

  • 7:00 – Wake up and open your eyes.
  • 7:15 – Open your curtains to get light into your room, put on some music and do some light stretching.
  • 7:30 – Eat a healthy breakfast with fruit and a glass of water while reading of your favourite novel.
  • 8:00 – Shower and get ready for work.
  • 8:30 – Drive to work or walk if you can to get in some excercise.
  • 9:00 – Start your work day with a simple strategising session to plan out your tasks.

If you’re the type of person to snooze until it’s too late, jump out of bed, throw on some clothes and head straight out of the door you may struggle initially to wake up the first time the alarm goes off. You can avoid this by getting to bed a bit earlier and ensuring you follow good sleep hygiene but once you’ve got your mornings under control, you’ll find yourself reaping the benefits throughout the entire day.

Enjoy your mornings, don’t fear them.