Sevenoaks Therapy

counselling & pSYchotherapy in Sevenoaks & Belvedere

The Sleep Solution: 10 Simple Steps to Better Sleep

Do you have trouble sleeping? If so, you're not alone. Millions of people around the world struggle with sleep problems. But there is hope. Sleep hygiene is a set of habits and practices that can help you get a better night's sleep.

Through personal experience, I've found that 'life' is so much better when I sleep well. I have laid in bed, tossing and turning, thinking of all the things I need to do, worrying about the time ticking by because I have to be up for work in x hours.  Often, I have eventually given up and trotted to the kitchen to make tea and put the TV on.

Lack of sleep can have a significant impact on our mental health, including anxiety, depression, stress, and relationships. Here are some of the ways that lack of sleep can affect these areas:

  • Anxiety: When we don't get enough sleep, our brains are more likely to misinterpret threats, which can lead to feelings of anxiety. Additionally, lack of sleep can disrupt our body's production of cortisol, a stress hormone that can also contribute to anxiety.
  • Depression: Lack of sleep can also worsen symptoms of depression. This is because sleep deprivation can affect our mood, energy levels, and ability to think clearly. Additionally, lack of sleep can increase our risk of developing depression in the first place.
  • Stress: Lack of sleep can make us feel more stressed and overwhelmed. This is because sleep deprivation can impair our ability to cope with stress. Additionally, lack of sleep can increase our production of the stress hormone cortisol.
  • Relationships: Lack of sleep can also strain our relationships. This is because sleep deprivation can affect our levels of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, which play a role in mood regulation and can make us more irritable, impatient, and withdrawn. Additionally, lack of sleep can make it difficult to communicate effectively and resolve conflict.
  • Brain Fog: When we don't get enough sleep, our brains don't have a chance to rest and recharge. This can lead to problems with focus, alertness and concentration
  • Lack of motivation: When we are tired it can be hard to be motivated at work or interested in socialising or just looking after ourselves
  • Difficulty in Decision Making: When we are tired, it can make it difficult to weigh the pros and cons of different options and make a sound decision

If you are struggling with any of these mental health issues, it is important to get enough sleep. Getting enough sleep can help to improve your mood, reduce your anxiety, and boost your energy levels. It can also help to improve your relationships by making you more patient, understanding, and communicative.

We all have an ideal amount of time we need to sleep in order to wake feeling refreshed.  Between the ages of 18-25, that's about seven to eight hours. As we age that decreases slightly and we need around seven to eight hours.  For me eight hours is the ideal - that's when I wake up without an alarm!

What is sleep hygiene?

Sleep hygiene refers to the healthy habits, behaviours, and environmental factors that can help you sleep well. Some of the most important aspects of sleep hygiene include:

  • Establishing a regular sleep schedule and sticking to it as much as possible, even on weekends.
  • Creating a relaxing bedtime routine that helps you wind down before bed.
  • Making sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, and cool.
  • Avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bed.
  • Getting regular exercise, but not too close to bedtime.
  • Taking naps during the day, if needed, but no longer than 30 minutes.
  • Seeing a doctor if you have a chronic sleep problem.

Why is sleep hygiene important?

Getting enough sleep is essential for your physical and mental health. Sleep helps your body repair itself, consolidate memories, and regulate your emotions. When you don't get enough sleep, you're more likely to experience fatigue, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and mood swings. You may also be more likely to get sick.

How to improve your sleep hygiene

If you're struggling with sleep problems, there are a few things you can do to improve your sleep hygiene:

  1. Start by making small changes to your routine. For example, you could try going to bed 15 minutes earlier each night or avoiding caffeine after noon.
  2. Make sure your bedroom is conducive to sleep. This means making sure it's dark, quiet, and cool (and tidy). You may also want to invest in blackout curtains or a white noise machine.
  3. Establish a relaxing bedtime routine. This could include taking a warm bath, reading a book, or listening to calming music.
  4. Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed. These substances can interfere with sleep.
  5. Get regular exercise, but not too close to bedtime. Exercise can help you sleep better, but it's important to avoid exercising too close to bedtime, as this can make it harder to fall asleep.
  6. Avoid screen time for 60 minutes before bedtime. The blue light emitted from screens can suppress the production of melatonin (a hormone that helps regulate sleep). Content may also be stimulating. Try setting a timer 60 minutes before bedtime, turn off the TV and put electronic devices away. Try making your bedroom a screen-free zone.
  7. Try some mindfulness exercises: Body Scan - focus your attention on each part of your body, noticing any tensions and relax your muscles. Breath Awareness - A simple but effective way to to reduce stress and anxiety. Try the 6-5-7 method. Breath in for 6, hold for 5, breath out for 7. Try it for a couple of minutes. If you find it hard to hold for 5, then reduce the count and increase over time.
  8. Meditation: Focus your attention on one object or thought.  This one always works for me but it can take practice.  When a thought or image comes into my mind, I focus on the blackness in my mind and say to myself 'embrace the darkness'. You might prefer to focus on an image - a cloud, or a sunset, for example. Or you might prefer to repeat a mantra or positive affirmation in your mind.  This will reduce stress and anxiety and promote relaxation.
  9. Keep a notebook and pen by your bed: When you're feeling anxious with thoughts of all those things you haven't done spend a couple of minutes writing them down. Then allow the thoughts to float away, in the knowledge that you have a reminder for the morning - thinking about them won't get them done any more quickly, but lack of sleep will impact your ability to deal with them efficiently tomorrow.
  10. See a doctor if you have a chronic sleep problem. If you've tried making changes to your sleep hygiene and you're still having trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor. They may be able to help you identify and treat an underlying medical condition that's interfering with your sleep.

Improving your sleep hygiene takes time and effort, but it's worth it. When you get enough sleep, you'll feel better physically and mentally, your anxiety, depression or stress may be reduced and you'll be more productive throughout the day.

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