You spend around a third of your life sleeping, and yet the quantity and quality of your sleep goes largely unnoticed.
The sleep you’re getting can have an enormous effect on your life and your mental health and wellbeing. “A poor night’s sleep impacts on all aspects of functioning, including your ability to concentrate, your ability to think creatively, and your emotional stability,” says Sleep Health Foundation sleep psychologist Professor Dorothy Bruck.
Is sleep a problem for you?
It can be hard to know whether you’re sleeping well. However, there are some strategies for deciding if things need to change. Think about how you are functioning during the day (and not just in the morning, because some people take a while to wake up). “Look at how you’re feeling after lunch,” Bruck suggests. “If you’re feeling sleepy in the early afternoon, then you can be fairly sure you’re not getting enough good quality sleep.”
Implement a one-hour sleep transition
“If you work right up until it’s time for bed, then your mind is still on the document you were working on,” says Bruck. “It’s important to have at least a one-hour buffer zone to unwind and get your body ready to fall into a slumber zone.”
Computer screens, too, have been shown to suppress the melatonin hormone that helps us go to sleep. Smartphones and tablet devices can also cause difficulties in getting to sleep.
Look at your lifestyle
Sleep problems are about more than just the sleep itself. “Sleep reflects what’s happening during the day,” says Bruck. “If you’re having problems and things aren’t going your way, that can impact on your sleep.”
To solve sleep issues, you’ll need to look at your whole lifestyle first. “If you’re not as in control of your emotions as you want to be, then you might want to think about your whole 24-hour lifestyle and the role sleep plays in that,” Bruck says.
The best things you can do during the day to encourage a good night’s sleep include getting lots of light, doing some physical activity and eating well.
Know when to go to bed
You might feel tired at the end of the day, but this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re ready to go to bed. “There’s a difference between being tired and being sleepy,” Bruck explains. “If you work really hard during the day, you’re often tired and so you go to bed early but lay awake for a couple of hours.” This can cause confusions in your sleep patterns and discourage the continuous sleep you really need. “Sleepiness is the desire to go to sleep,” adds Bruck.
Going to bed a little bit later can also help your body be more ready for sleep. “It helps you build up your sleep drive, or your pressure for sleep,” Bruck says. “Avoid falling asleep in front of the television, too, as this takes the edge off your sleepiness and makes it difficult to get to sleep when you do get to bed.”
Spend less time in bed
To get a good night’s sleep, you don’t need to spend more time in bed. In fact, experts say you should spend less time there. “If you need seven-and-a-half hours sleep, then you should only spend seven-and-a-half hours in bed,” says Bruck. “Spending more time in bed causes your sleep to be more fragmented across the night.”
Going to bed at the same time most nights is a good habit to get into, as it drives predictability for your body about when it needs sleep.
“We know that poor sleep is a risk factor for the development of depression. It’s a two-way street as well: if you’re depressed you’re likely to struggle with sleep,” explains Bruck. Sleep disturbances are also an early depression onset sign, so consider seeking advice before things worsen.
Anxiety, too, has a huge sleep impact. “Anxiety causes hyper-arousal and stress and we know this has a significant effect on going to sleep,” says Bruck. “Your mind can’t switch off. Then, in the second half of the night when sleep is lighter there are often awakenings and people can’t get back to sleep. Those early morning awakenings are often a sign that you’re taking too much stress to bed or running on edge and you should be looking at lifestyle factors that are making you stressed or anxious.”
If you feel either a lack of quality sleep is having a mental health and wellbeing impact, or your mental health is acting as a barrier towards getting good sleep, speak to your GP.
“The information related to your health is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.”;
This article was provided by SuperFriend, a national mental health organisation helping workplaces improve mental health and wellbeing for their employees and customers.