Sleep is possibly one of the most effective forms of self-care. Everything feels worse when you’re tired. It’s common knowledge that sleep problems are prevelant in those who suffer from things like anxiety or depression, but what isn’t as well-known is that lack of sleep can contribute to the development of such things.
Sleep deprivation is nothing unusual among people today. The temptations to stay up all night watching something on Netflix or reading ‘one more chapter’ of a good book, or if you’re like my boyfriend, talking about anything and everything, is all too inviting. So we watch one more episode (and another, and another…), wake up tired and spend the whole day yawning and cranky.
Now I’m not going to bore you with all the technicalities of sleep but they do say knowledge is power. There are two major categories of sleep: quiet sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Quiet sleep is deep sleep. Here our muscles relax, our body temperature drops, our heart rate, and breathing slows. Quiet sleep helps boost our immune system functioning. REM sleep is dream sleep. Our body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate and breathing increase back up to the same rates as when we’re awake. REM sleep increases memory and learning capabilities and improves our mental health. Any interruption to sleep affects our levels of stress hormones and messes with the way we think and the way we feel.
So how can you improve your sleep, I hear you ask? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.
Sleep hygiene is very important. This doesn’t mean having a shower before bed and washing your sheets all the time. Sleep hygiene is having a regular sleep schedule. Going to sleep at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning. Getting into a routine makes it easier to get up and make it through the day without constantly yawning and needing a nap. It’s also important to make sure your bed is just for sleeping. Watching films/TV or doing work in bed means the brain associates the need to be busy and feelings of stress with sitting in bed. So when you try to get to sleep, your brain is thinking the opposite.
Everyone knows that caffeine has negative effects on your sleeping habits; drinking caffeine six hours before bedtime reduces total sleep time by at least one hour. But alcohol and nicotine also have negative effects on sleep. After a night of drinking, sure it’s easy to fall asleep. But the sleep you get is broken and light so you wake up just as tired as when you went to sleep. The same is said for smartphones and social media before bed. The light from your phone makes your brain believe that it’s morning and so it’s harder for you to fall asleep. Cutting these things out, or limiting them at least, will help improve your sleep.
Exercise! Studies have found that half an hour of aerobic exercises help you fall asleep quicker. Not only that, but you spend more time in deep sleep and therefore feel more relaxed when you wake up. Fair warning though, I try this one a lot and often wake up with sore exercise muscles but this is probably due to the fact that my exercise occurs once in a blue moon.
Now I know when I try to get to sleep, my brain likes to run a mile a minute thinking about everything and anything. My most embarrassing moments, how I haven’t got my life sorted etc, etc. I get myself trapped in a downward spiral and getting to sleep is near impossible. Recently I’ve been trying meditation or deep breathing exercises to calm me down and they really make a difference.
All of this is definitely easier said than done, I know that for a fact as I’m known for my backwards sleeping routine and taking an afternoon nap to compensate for it but trying to incorporate some of these changes into your life will help you get a better night’s sleep and in turn aid to improving your emotional and mental health.