Good quality sleep is crucial for wellbeing, including good mental health. That’s probably not news to you, but have you recently had a look at the quality of your own sleep and your sleep hygiene (which is what we call the habits and routines that lead up to falling asleep)? Poor sleep hygiene can often be turned around with the help of a medical or mental health practitioner developing a plan based on your own challenges and goals. Here are some general tips to get you started.
We are all creatures of habit and most of us thrive within a well-thought-out routine. Bedtime routines establish habits that help the brain recognize when it’s time to sleep. Carrying out the same activities in the same order nightly can help the brain see those activities as a precursor to sleep. Just think of babies and infants: having consistent activities and times can help them fall asleep faster and wake less frequently.
Bedtime routines can also play an important role in reducing late-night stress and anxiety. We know that anxious thoughts and rumination activate and alert your mind. With the consistency and predictability of a routine, you can keep your mind focused on other tasks and encourage yourself to relax instead.
Action point – set a consistent bed time, set alarms on your phone an hour before you wish to sleep to allow time to start your bedtime routine.
Stress and sleep have a shared relationship. Elevated levels of stress can contribute to difficulties with sleep, and poor-quality sleep can trigger a stress response. Stress can trigger our nervous system to release hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones contribute to an increased heart rate and breathing rate, preparing the body for immediate action – the opposite of relaxed!
In fact, being over stimulated, whether it’s through stress, working late at night, problem solving, worrying, doing complex tasks or having stimulating conversation, is one of the most common culprits for delayed sleep. Having an honest look at your nighttime activity and examining it for levels of stress and stimulation might be the most important action you take this year for your overall wellbeing.
Action point – try a mindfulness or relaxation breathing practice before bedtime. Consider engaging with therapy to build stress management skills.
You will know that the temperature of the room is important to sleep because you have likely woken up in the middle of the night – feeling hotter than the sun. As night approaches, our body temperature naturally dips about 2 degrees, signaling that it’s time to slow down and rest. By keeping your bedroom cooler, you’re strengthening your body’s natural instinct to sleep. If your room is too hot, it could potentially block that signal and disrupt sleep onset and quality. Studies show 15-18 degrees Celsius to be an ideal room temperature for sleep.
Action point – beside the obvious use of fan and air conditioner; consider sleeping with less clothing and investing in a cooling gel bed topper.
Circadian rhythms (internal body clock) are finely-tuned, 24-hour cycles that help our bodies know when to carry out essential functions. Factors such as exercise, social activity, and temperature impact this internal clock, however light is the most important factor in aligning this internal body clock and tends to be closely oriented with sunrise and sunset.
With the arrival of artificial light and electronics, we are being exposed to increasing amounts of light before bedtime. While all types of visible light can affect the body clock, it is possible that blue light has the largest impact, stimulating parts of the brain that make us feel alert and suppressing the release of our sleep hormone, melatonin. During the day, blue light can be helpful and improve performance and attention, tuning our circadian rhythm and setting us up for a better night’s sleep after the sun sets.
Recent research suggests that the role of blue light in delaying sleep is not straightforward, and it is important to consider the brightness and duration of exposure to all types of light prior to sleep. Whilst it might be helpful to reduce blue light before bed, any benefits will be counteracted by exposure to other light that is bright, especially for lengthy periods of time each night.
Action point – Use the “night shift” function on your electronic devices and phones to automatically limit blue light – it will turn your screen “reddish” and reduce your exposure to all bright light before bed.
This may be a common culprit we have all heard of! A morning coffee can often leave you feeling alert, more productive and perform better. However, consuming coffee later in the afternoon or evening can be problematic for sleep. Caffeine has a half-life of about 5 hours, meaning five hours after your drink half of the caffeine is still in your body.
Action point – avoid drinking coffee after 2:00 PM or at least 6-8 hours before bedtime, whichever comes first.
For more information you can see one of our practitioners or speak with your GP. We suggest scheduling weekly ‘sleep checks’ with yourself for a couple of months to monitor progress. Even something as important as good quality sleep can be lost in the busyness of life. It is worth putting at the top or your list on a regular basis to ensure you are setting yourself up for all the benefits of a good sleep.
Namrata Makhiijani and Yvonne Kilpatrick