Are your nights filled with restlessness, tossing, and turning or an inability to turn your mind off? Are you someone who has trouble staying asleep?
Often it can feel frustrating trying to keep a consistent sleep schedule with the ever-increasing demands of work, family, health, and life that seem to impact us differently every day. A friend once said to me, that they noticed the time before they go to bed is the only time, they have to themselves, and so every night becomes a battle between getting 8 hours of sleep or enjoying the only “me time” that was available to them.
According to research restless nights and tired mornings can increase in frequency as we age, and our sleep patterns shift. As we get older there seems to be a decrease in hours we sleep and changes in how our bodies regulate our sleep rhythms, making it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep (Gios et al., 2022).
Assessing the quality of your sleep can be helpful in figuring out where you might need support. If your sleep is impacting your functioning daily and you have concerns that it may be health related, your health care provider can make formal assessments, make recommendations, and even refer you to a sleep clinic to determine if your sleep difficulties are illness related. A mental health professional is a useful resource if you suspect your sleep disturbances are related to anxiety or depression. A therapist that uses cognitive behavioural therapy can help you track your sleep patterns and develop helpful interventions to combat anxious thoughts or unhelpful behaviours that might be contributing to impaired sleep.
If you’re looking to develop a proper sleep hygiene routine to improve the quality of your sleep, research suggests incorporating the following practices into your daily routine:
Move your Body
Research suggests 30 minutes of mild aerobic workouts daily can improve your sleep quality. Daily movement can be one of the fastest ways to notice sleep improvements. Morning exercise exposes you to bright daylight which is helpful for your natural circadian rhythm. Nightly exercise that is too close to your bedtime can be over stimulating and make it more difficult to fall asleep.
Create a Sleep Sanctuary
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “your bed should only be for sleep and sex”. Studies have shown having a quiet, dark, and cool temperature helps to promote the onset of sleep. This also means avoiding screens, at least 2 hours before sleep.
Make a Sleep Ritual
Maintaining a consistent routine is essential for developing healthy sleep patterns. This includes trying to go to bed and wake up at the same time. Rituals can help let our bodies and minds know that it is time for sleep. This could include taking a warm bath or shower, meditating, or listening to calm music before bed.
Avoid Alcohol, Caffeine, Nicotine and Eating Before Sleep
Stimulants 4-6 hours before bed, as well as eating a big meal 2-3 hours before bed can impact our sleep through the night.
Can’t Fall Sleep? Go to Another Room
If 20 minutes pass and you find you are wide awake, research suggests leaving your bed and doing a light activity such as reading or listening to calming music. Getting out of bed when yo can't sleep can help strengthen your minds association with your bed only being for sleep.
(Gios et al., 2022)
In the end, prioritizing a functional sleep hygiene routine and high-quality sleep enhances mental well-being, as well as improvements to our daily functioning.
Gios, T., Mecca, T. P., Akemi, J., Kataoka, L. E., & Lowenthal, R. (2022). Sleep habits and the relationship thereof with mental health indicators in childhood. Psicologia - Teoria e Prática, 24(1).