The saying goes, “Everything will be better in the morning.” It’s not by accident that problems always seem more manageable after a good night’s sleep. But when you are juggling so many balls and responsible for the wellbeing of so many, it’s getting even harder to fully switch off and sleep at the end of every day.
The worrying fact is that for many of us, not getting a good night’s sleep is now par for the course. Rationalising that less sleep is just one of the casualties of a busy lifestyle is not the way forward and more of us find it harder than ever to get a good night of sleep. According to the Mental Health Foundation, we are now sleeping 90 minutes less on average than we did less than 100 years ago, with factors such as increased work responsibilities, over-stimulation from phones and laptops, and poor diets causing more and more people to suffer with sleep problems.
It gets worse for people who suffer from insomnia, they are a staggering 10 times more likely to suffer clinical depression and 17 times more likely to suffer with severe anxiety, whilst a recent study carried out at the University of Oxford found that “sleep disruption is a driving factor in the occurrence of paranoia, hallucinatory experiences, and other mental health problems”.
Furthermore, not only can a lack of sleep exacerbate underlying mental health issues or even cause them, but it is also associated with greater mood variability, a reduced capacity to manage emotions, and increased levels of impulsive behaviour and inappropriate reactivity. In other words, a lack of sleep leads us to behave more erratically and make poor decisions.
We spoke to Gerard Barnes, CEO of mental health treatment specialist Smart TMS, who is well acquainted with the issues brought about by a lack of quality sleep. He shared the restorative benefits of quality sleep and shares some tips on how to prepare for a better night’s sleep.
He said: “There are a range of factors that contribute to any mental health problem, and we can never put something like depression or chronic anxiety down to one single issue, but regularly getting good quality sleep is one of the single most potent ways to influence one’s mental health in a positive manner.
Some people who experience a significant lack of sleep may suffer from a disorder which likely requires specific treatment, but for the majority of us, our sleep quality could be dramatically improved by simply making some simple adjustments to our lifestyle and daily habits.”
With this in mind, here are four key tips that can be easily applied to help you start sleeping better:
Our reliance on smartphones, tablets and laptops in today’s society has never been greater, and while this technology has a range of advantages, it can also have a devastating effect on our ability to sleep. Blue light emitted by our screens disrupts the production of melatonin, the hormone that controls your sleep/wake cycle – switching off or leaving your electronic devices for half an hour or more before bed will help you to feel sleepy and allow you to drop off more effectively.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol
Consuming caffeine before bed is of course not conducive to relaxing, but many may be surprised to find that alcohol also disrupts your sleep. Whilst many people say they find it very easy to fall asleep following a few drinks, alcohol has been proven to reduce the amount of time spent in REM sleep – the stage of sleep responsible for the retention of memory, learning and mood regulation. Staying away from alcohol before bed will improve memory, prepare you to deal with your emotions and is essential for your overall development.
Establish a sleeping routine
Building a realistic and achievable daytime routine is one of the best ways to combat stress and anxiety, helping us to cope with change, form positive behaviours, and feel more in control of our lives. Our night-time routines should be no different.
The benefits of going to bed and waking up at the same time every day for our mental health cannot be overstated – reduction of anxiety, improved energy levels and ability to cope with responsibilities are just some of the positive effects.
Doing regular exercise can be very difficult for people dealing with mental health problems, but it is one of the most beneficial and influential things we can do to help us sleep better. Not only does exercise release a natural antidepressant in the form of endorphins, but the increased demand placed on our body makes the prospect of sleep far more attractive to our mind. Even just 30 minutes of exercise a day will help in the quest to achieve a better night of sleep.