Going to bed at night and sleeping isn’t just a time when you shut down for the night, sleep is very important to our health and wellbeing and it is a time of recovery and healing. If we are not getting good, quality sleep we can begin to notice the impact of this. Have you ever noticed why aches and pains can seem much worse if you’re also not sleeping well? Good sleep doesn’t just mean lots of sleeping; it means the right type of sleeping and with healthy bedtime routines to enable this.
The ways our sleep (or lack of) can impact on us:
· Cognitive performance including our attention and processing of all types in information
· Language and communicative skills
· Understanding, judgement and how we respond to unpredictable situations
· Physical and mental performance including how we perform at work, studying and social activities
· Mood and mental health such as with feelings of anxiety and depression
· Relationships and social engagement
· Natural healing and the immune system including our pain perception
Our physical and mental health can impact on achieving a good night of sleep therefore seeking treatment to help with your physical and/or mental health symptoms may help you in getting the sleep you want (and need!). Always consult your GP or pharmacist before taking medications to help you sleep.
Ensure that the bedroom is an environment for sleep – this includes appropriate bedding and pillows, being warm, dark and quiet enough, and not having distractions such as TV and food. If distractions are out of your control, consider using eye masks or ear plugs.
The ‘blue light’ background of modern devices has been shown to disrupt sleep through the suppression of melatonin production therefore try to avoid using these gadgets before you go to sleep.
Worrying at night or getting frustrated that you are not sleeping only makes it harder to get to sleep. Developing relaxation techniques can help to shift your focus from your anxieties or that you aren’t able to sleep. Alternatively, instead of lying in bed frustrated, consider getting out of bed and doing a small activity or making a drink and then trying again after a short while. If your sleep problems persist for more than one month discussing options with your GP such as cognitive behavioural therapy may be appropriate and may help with your thoughts and mental health which could be impacting on your sleep.
A healthy and balanced diet can help to maintain regular and quality sleep. Furthermore it is important to consider the time of day when eating certain foods, for example caffeine and sugary foods late at night can act as stimulants that keep us awake. Whilst alcohol is a depressant, it can cause us to wake at unpredictable times as the effects wear off as well as increasing the need to use the toilet during the night.
Regular exercise (see last month’s article on ‘Exercise and Mental Health’!) can help to manage levels of stress and anxiety and have a positive impact on our mental wellbeing and sleep cycle, however exercising too late in the evening may increase difficulty with sleeping as the body’s adrenaline is increased.
Mentalhealth.org also has some great tips of how to deal with common night time problems that can impact on our sleeping pattern such as night terrors and sleep walking as well as signposting to some other great resources.
Healthy habits to help achieve good sleep:
· Appropriate environment - Sleep in a dark, quiet room with an appropriate temperature
· Avoid using mobile phones, tablets and games one hour before going to bed
· If you take naps in the day, do so wisely, none later than 3pm
· If you can’t get to sleep after 20 minutes, get up and do something then try again later
· Stick to a consistent time and routine that you go to bed
· Do not go to bed on an empty stomach
· Go to the toilet before you go to bed
· Do not drink alcohol or caffeine 3-6 hours before you go to bed
How much sleep should I get?
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that whilst it will vary between individuals, on average we should be achieving between 7 and 9 hours sleep a night.