Updated: May 5, 2020
One of the most common complaint with any mental health issue is sleep disturbance. One of the most common cause of mental health issues is also disturbance in sleep. Research has been consistent about sleep being a significant variable in determining our mental health. Sleep deprivation can cause a lot of mental health issues, like paranoia, anxiety, irritability, depressive moods, etc. This article will discuss a few simple strategies to sleep better at night.
Train your Brain
Our brain needs to learn to associate night time with sleeping. It was easier to do before electricity was made readily available in our homes, darkness was a sign that it was now time to sleep and light at dawn signified time to wake up, hence following a natural sleep cycle. We can do that again by training our brain to learn that night time is time to sleep. Following points can be effective in training our brain.
Having a night routine is the best way to make association with sleep. Start a sleep routine at least half hour before you want to be in bed, ready to fall asleep. Doing same things night after night will help your brain make association between these activities and sleep. Few ideas to include in your sleep routine.
Wash your arms, feet and face
Take a relaxing shower in warm water
Make your bed clean
Include a skin care routine
Change into clean night clothes
Engage in a relaxing activity like reading, listening to audio book, calming music etc.
Change the Light
Bright lights, especially lights at the blue end of the light spectrum (sunlight, LED, phone screen) are likely to keep your brain alert. Try to reduce the number of lights at night (at least half hour) before you want to go to bed. A single lamp with yellow light or a dimmer can be helpful in creating an illusion of darkness, it helps your brain to associate this time with sleeping. It reduces the alertness and sleep is easier. Change the settings on your mobile phones to night light and reduce the brightness if you cannot avoid using your phone at night.
Bed is for Sleeping
Our brain can make association between places and emotions that place evokes. For instance some people start feeling anxious if they are visiting their school and standing in the exam hall even though they graduated decades ago.
If you lie or sit on your bed while doing office work on your computer it is likely that the bed is now associated with work and the emotions it brings with it. This may interfere in relaxing during night and falling asleep. Make sure to use your bed for relaxing and sleeping.
Napping can be effective in increasing productivity during the day only if a short nap of no more than 20 minutes is taken. It can give you a boost of energy and make you productive. However, all of us have at some point taken 'zombie' naps of an hour or two when you wake up disoriented and groggy and this is what we need to avoid if we want to have a good sleep at night. We cannot compensate for hours of sleep lost at night by napping during the day. We need that continuous night sleep.
A little bit of physical activity during the day can be very helpful in getting a good night's sleep. A half hour walk during the day, exercising in the day, cycling etc. can be very beneficial for a good sleep at night.
What not to do?
Don't read the news at night.
Don't read your work related emails at night
Don't listen to loud music.
Don't have too many lights on.
Don't take caffeinated drinks after 5:00 PM
What to do if you can't go back to sleep?
Get out of bed, drink some water, do something mundane like folding clothes, keep lights dimmed and then try to go back to bed. Lying in bed, trying really hard to sleep may only end up in frustration and looking at the clock makes it worse. Avoid looking at the phone (especially to check the time). Re-do the sleep routine and try again.
These are a few simple strategies that can prove effective in maintaining good sleep hygiene and in turn improve mental health. If you have extreme difficulties in sleeping please consult your general physician.
Freeman, D., Sheaves, B., Goodwin, G. M., Yu, L. M., Nickless, A., Harrison, P. J., ... & Hinds, C. (2017). The effects of improving sleep on mental health (OASIS): a randomised controlled trial with mediation analysis.The Lancet Psychiatry,4(10), 749-758.