Insomnia, Sleep and Mental Health - A Quick Guide to a Good Night’s Sleep
Sleep and mental health tend to go hand in hand – it’s hard to have one without the other. If we’re not getting enough good quality regular sleep, we’ll find it hard to function to our full potential.
Is insomnia a mental illness? Not in isolation, but it often occurs alongside other conditions that impact our psychological wellbeing. If we’re experiencing anxiety or low mood, that can certainly affect our sleep patterns.
Whatever our challenges, the benefits of sleep can’t be denied, and a good night’s kip is a great platform to work from. So if you find that you’re having difficulty sleeping, try our 10 tested tips for restful kips:
It stands to reason that exercise will tire you out and help you to prepare for sleep. Just a little exercise each day will start to produce results. A 10-minute brisk walk on a daily basis is free to do, doesn’t require any special equipment and can also help lower blood pressure. The NHS Active10 app can help you to keep up this practice.
2. Keep an eye on the caffeine
While coffee is the traditional culprit, tea, cola, chocolate – and of course energy drinks – all contain our favourite xanthine alkaloid! While a 200ml cup of filter coffee contains around 90mg of caffeine, a 250ml can of the dreaded energy drink actually contains slightly less (although it may contain frightening amounts of sugar too). 220ml of black tea contains just over half the caffeine count at around 50mg, with a 335ml can of cola coming in around 35mg. As a stimulant, caffeine may keep your mind racing and body active when you are trying to rest, so it’s best avoided in the evening. Try alternatives like herbal teas or hot milky drinks.
3. Over-doing it close to bed time
Large meals late in the evening and excessive alcohol can cause you trouble. You may count food and booze among the things to help you sleep more peacefully, but while they may well leave you feeling drowsy enough to drop off, you stand a greater chance of waking in the night and suffering a broken night’s sleep. Plus, you are less likely to feel refreshed upon waking.
4. Think about quitting smoking
Nicotine found in cigarettes and is a stimulant. Even vaping, using an e-cigarette or e-liquids containing nicotine will have the same stimulant effect. If you’re a smoker, you can expect to take longer to drop off, and also experience a disturbed sleep pattern. So given all of the other dangers associated with this habit, it really is worth stubbing it out for good!
5. Keep to a routine
A bit of variation here and there won’t do any harm, but if you’re trying to establish some healthy sleeping habits it’s best to try to stick to the same bedtimes and morning alarm times. It may be tricky at first, with sleepless nights and sleepy mornings, but if you can stick with it for three weeks, you will most likely have cracked it.
If you want to stay up an hour later on Saturday, and lie in for an hour on Sunday, no harm will come of it. But going full-on nocturnal for the duration of the weekend will disturb your circadian rhythm, a natural, internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle that repeats roughly every 24 hours, and make it difficult to re-establish your routine.
6. Winding down to bedtime
It’s a good idea to have a calm 30 minutes before you attempt sleep for your body and mind to relax and adjust. Closing the laptop or putting down your smart phone one minute before your head hits the pillow is unlikely to yield great results. For one thing, the blue light from electronic screens is thought to supress the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. And also, your mind needs time to unwind from stimulation. A bath or half-an-hour of quiet relaxing music will make for better bedtime preparation.
7. Establish a calming space to sleep in
Put some effort into making your bedroom a relaxing place to be and to fall asleep in. Think about sounds, lighting and temperature, and try to make it as tranquil and welcoming as possible, free from any elements that might disturb you like electrical appliances, clutter or pets. You need to make sure your bed is comfy and your mattress is fit for purpose too.
8. Put it down on paper
By writing down any issues that are making us anxious, we can externalise them, put them to one side, and get on with the business of falling asleep. Five minutes with the pen and paper may save fifty minutes of turning your concerns over in your head. This works for whatever you have on tomorrow too – sketch out a plan for yourself, and it can prevent you running through everything you have to do while you’re trying to drift off.
9. Give up (for a little while)!
Sometimes we’re all tucked up, we’ve tried our usual tools, techniques and sleep problem solutions but it’s just not happening. If you’re in this situation, rather than just lying there getting more and more anxious about lack of sleep, it’s OK to give up, get up and do something productive, or simply relax for a little while with a book. After half an hour, you may feel ready to go back and give it another try.
10. Get Mindful
A regular routine that involves taking time out to practice mindfulness techniques like meditation can help you to be happier and more creative in your waking life, but also get a better night’s sleep. If a busy mind and churning thoughts are part of what’s preventing you from drifting off each night, then mindfulness could help you to control intrusive thoughts and to calm your mind ready for sleep.
Many of these tips are solid advice regardless of their affect on sleep. Smoking is never the best idea for your health, and most of us could benefit from a little less caffeine and a little more exercise. If you’re looking for more general advice on sleep problems, and those beyond insomnia, Therapy for You can help.
You may be wondering why am I sleeping so much? Or maybe you’re experiencing sleepwalking, oversleeping, nightmares or sleep paralysis? If you wish to learn more about these experiences, about mindfulness, or if you suspect you may suffer from some of the other conditions we’ve mentioned such as anxiety or low moods, Therapy For You is here to help with all these issues.
To find out more, contact us on 01268 739 128 to book a telephone appointment with one of our qualified therapists.
If you are at a very low point and need immediate help, visit our crisis page or contact your GP for an emergency appointment.