Sleep is incredibly important for mental health. Most people can tell you that a poor nights sleep can lead to fatigue, increased stress, irritability and decreased motivation. We often feel refreshed and renewed after a good nights sleep. In addition, sleep is important for memory consolidation and learning. Chronic insomnia can lead to mood disorders and anxiety. However, we also know that insomnia is a symptom of both of these conditions. In fact, difficulties sleeping may be one of the first signs of depression. There are several treatments to help with sleep. We often recommend starting sleep hygiene, or changes in sleep routine. Our sleep wake cycle, or circadian rhythm, is mediated by our pineal gland which secretes melatonin. It can take several weeks for our circadian rhythm to reset, so start incorporating changes and try your best to stick with them. There are several tips that can be helpful.
Initiate a regular bedtime routine that is calming and relaxing. Examples could be playing soft music, meditating, drinking warm milk or reading a relaxing book.
Try to avoid doing homework or work in your bedroom. The goal is for your bedroom to be associated with rest and relaxation and not stress or pressures.
Try going to bed and getting up at a similar time each day which will help restore your own natural circadian rhythm.
Avoid caffeinated beverages after noon. Caffeine can disrupt our normal sleep wake cycle.
In today's world technology is a way of life. However, try to avoid using any form of technology including iPads, iPhones, TVs, electronic testing devices or computers one hour before bedtime. The bright light from these devices can signal to our brain that it is daytime and delay the release of melatonin, interfering with our sleep.
Exercise during the day promotes healthy sleep at night. However, try to avoid exercising for at least an hour before bed as this can interfere with sleep.
If you cannot sleep try not to lie in bed more than 20-30 minutes. Lying in bed for too long can lead to anxiety about falling asleep which can can then further interfere with us actually falling asleep. Instead, try getting out of bed and doing something boring or mundane such as folding laundry or reading a textbook and then try falling asleep again when feeling tired.
Avoid naps throughout the day. Naps can push back the body's natural release of melatonin making it harder to fall asleep at bedtime or cause increased nighttime awakenings.
Try a ritual of deep breathing, meditation or visualization prior to bedtime and incorporate this into your regular nighttime routine.
Avoid substance use which can interfere with the body's circadian rhythm.
If you struggle with anxiety prior to bed consider a worry journal. Write down racing thoughts, to dos or worries on a piece of paper and leave it on a table outside your bedroom. Remind yourself that the list will be there in the morning to quiet worries that often interfere with sleep.
Consider a sleep journal to look at patterns that may be interfering or helping with sleep. You could also track daily mood to look for correlations between sleep and mood.
If you are still struggling with sleep or want to learn more about any of these tips we would love to talk more!