Sleep is undeniably an important part of our routines. Yet, in our hectic, busy lives, we often prioritize other things before eventually turning in for the night. Even though we’re exhausted, many of us choose to binge TV and send emails when we should be sleeping.
Sleep remains as important as ever for us, however, and practising consistent sleep hygiene can lead to many benefits you might not be aware of. Healthy sleeping habits can improve your memory and sharpen your attention, strengthen your immune system, lower your blood pressure, and can even increase weight loss.
But there is also a significant relationship between sleep and your mental health; staying well-rested can also decrease symptoms related to stress, anxiety and depression. In day-to-day life, this could mean lessening feelings of irritability, sadness and being overwhelmed.
Needless to say, sleep definitely matters. In order to get the best sleep possible, here are some helpful tips.
Understand your unique sleep needs We’ve all heard that eight hours of sleep a night is the sweet spot. In truth, everyone’s sleep needs are different. You may do just fine on six hours, or you may require nine or more to feel fully recharged. It’s all about listening to your body and understanding what it needs.
Get a sleep routine going If your sleep times vary dramatically, ranging from hitting the hay one night at 10 p.m. to pulling an all-nighter the next, that may be causing long-term problems for healthy bedtime habits. (That’s especially true right now, when our normal, long-term routines have been disrupted.) By adhering to a regular schedule that sees you go to bed and wake up at the same time, you can begin to improve your overall quality of sleep.
Put down your phone Using a phone, laptop or tablet close to your bedtime can be problematic for several reasons. If you’re spending time on social media, you may experience an increase in anxiety; the same can be said if you’re spending the latter part of your evening stressing out over work emails.
But the actual light that your device emits can also have an adverse effect on your sleep – phones and similar gadgets give off a blue light that actually restricts your brain’s production of melatonin (a hormone that helps regulate sleep and circadian rhythms), which, in turn, reduces the quality of your sleep.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol A cup of coffee or perhaps even a nightcap – caffeine and alcohol can both adversely affect your sleep, and they should generally be avoided in the hours leading up to bedtime.
Caffeine is a stimulant and can keep you up long after you were hoping to drift off. Meanwhile, alcohol can affect your circadian rhythm and REM, a deeply restorative part of your sleep cycle.
Instead of a tipple or espresso, try a caffeine-free herbal tea, or better yet, some water.
Don’t just lie there You’re tossing and turning. Trying to count sheep, desperately willing yourself towards sleep and absolutely nothing seems to be working. If you can relate to this scenario, then this advice might surprise you.
While seemingly counter-intuitive, it is recommended that if you’re having difficulty nodding off, the best thing to do is actually get up and try something else, like reading. This is done to avoid creating an unhealthy association between your bed and insomnia, and to help you temporarily focus on something else.
The connection between healthy sleep behaviour and positive mental health may not be something you’ve often considered. But through creating helpful routines and avoiding activities and substances that may cause anxiety or stimulate, you can look forward to having relaxing nights and getting the rest you need.
By doing so, you can limit the negative effects that a lack of sleep can have on your mental health – something we can all aspire to!
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