Good sleep doesn’t just mean lots of sleep: it means the right kind of sleep. Sleep affects our ability to use language, sustain attention, understand what we are reading, and summarise what we are hearing; if we compromise on our sleep, we compromise on our performance, our mood, and our interpersonal relationships. Sleep has also been shown to protect the immune system. Along with nutrition and exercise, good sleep is one of the pillars of health.
The amount that each person needs is different; however, it is recommended that a healthy adult should sleep, on average, between seven and nine hours a night. A good night’s sleep is just as important as regular exercise and a healthy diet. The important thing is that you get good-quality sleep.
HEAL – The four pillars of good sleep
- Health: Try to avoid taking medication without speaking to a medical professional, as sometimes the medication itself can stop you from sleeping properly if it’s not right for you.
- Environment: The bedroom should be somewhere that we associate with sleep.
- Attitude: Lying awake in bed, particularly before an important day, can make us worry. However, this worry then makes it harder for us to get to sleep.
- Lifestyle: There are a number of things that you can do every day to improve the quality of your sleep. Exercise increases the body’s adrenaline production, making it more difficult to sleep if done just before bedtime.
Falling asleep may seem like an impossible dream when you’re awake at 3 a.m., but good sleep is more under your control than you might think. If you don’t fall asleep within about 20 minutes, leave your bedroom and do something relaxing. Read or listen to soothing music. Go back to bed when you’re tired. Repeat as needed. Healthy sleep habits can make a big difference in your quality of life. Having healthy sleep habits is often referred to as having good sleep hygiene.
Try to keep the following sleep practices on a consistent basis:
- Poor Sleepers Have a Greater Risk of Heart Disease and Stroke
- Sleep Affects Glucose Metabolism and Type 2 Diabetes Risk
- Poor Sleep Is Linked to Increased Inflammation
- Sleep Affects Emotions and Social Interactions
- Include physical activity in your daily routine
- Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows
- Practice Yoga, Meditation and Mindfulness
- Establish a Soothing Pre-Sleep Routine
- Pay attention to what you eat and drink
- Experience Both Daylight and Darkness
- Sleep Improves Your Immune Function
- Go to Sleep When You’re Truly Tired
- Don’t Be a Nighttime Clock-Watcher
- Poor Sleep Is Linked to Depression
- Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual
- Design your sleep environment
- Lighten Up on Evening Meals
- Poor Sleep Can Make You Fat
- Create a restful environment
- Set yourself a ‘get fit’ plan
- Do Not Look at Your Clock
- Exercise During The Day
- Stick to a sleep schedule
- If you’re not tired, get up
- Manage worries
- Write down your worries
- Adjust Your Sleep Position
- Take a Relaxing Bath or Shower
- Try Sleep-Enhancing Supplements
- Avoid becoming sleepy after dinner
- Use guided imagery to help you relax
- Visualize Things That Make You Happy
- If you can’t sleep, go into another room
- Do something relaxing until you feel tired
- Good Sleepers Tend to Eat Fewer Calories
- Make your bedroom comfortable and peaceful
- Good Sleep Can Maximize Athletic Performance
- Good Sleep Can Improve Concentration and Productivity
- Spend the last hour before bed doing a calming activity
- Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and heavy meals in the evening
Tips for beating anxiety to get a better night’s sleep
Many of us toss and turn or watch the clock when we can’t sleep for a night or two. But for some, a restless night is routine. Many people with anxiety disorders have trouble sleeping. That’s a problem. Too little sleep affects mood, contributing to irritability and sometimes depression. Vital functions occur during different stages of sleep that leave you feeling rested and energized or help you learn and forge memories. Sleep usually improves when an anxiety disorder is treated. Practicing good “sleep hygiene” helps, too.
Stress and anxiety may cause sleeping problems or make existing problems worse. And having an anxiety disorder exacerbates the problem. Sleep disorders are characterized by abnormal sleep patterns that interfere with physical, mental, and emotional functioning. Stress or anxiety can cause a serious night without sleep, as do a variety of other problems.
Try these tips for improving sleep problems and managing your anxiety
Here are some steps to take:
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
- Daylight helps set sleep patterns, so try to be outdoors while it’s light out for 30 minutes a day.
- Exercise regularly (but not too close to bedtime). An afternoon workout is ideal.
- Keep naps short — less than an hour — and forgo napping after 3 p.m.
- Avoid caffeine (found in coffee, many teas, chocolate, and many soft drinks), which can take up to eight hours to wear off. You may need to avoid caffeine entirely if you have panic attacks; many people who experience panic attacks are extra-sensitive to caffeine.
- Review your medications with a doctor to see if you are taking any stimulants, which are a common culprit in keeping people up at night. Sometimes it’s possible to switch medicines.
- Avoid alcohol, large meals, foods that induce heartburn, and drinking a lot of fluid for several hours before bedtime.
- If you smoke, quit. Smoking causes many health problems, including compromising sleep in a variety of ways.
- Keep your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet, without distractions like TV or a computer. Avoid using an electronic device to read in bed; the light from the screen can trick your brain into thinking it is daytime. If your mattress is uncomfortable, replace it.
- Reading, listening to music, or relaxing before bed with a hot bath or deep breathing can help you get to sleep.
- If you don’t fall asleep within 20 minutes of turning in (or if you wake up and can’t fall back to sleep in 20 minutes), get out of bed and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy.
If you’re experiencing stress in your life, chances are that you might be struggling to fall or stay asleep at night. Your anxious worry about life and its problems may keep your brain from settling down, and the disruption of sleep is likely to keep you feeling more on edge the next day. Sleep disruption is a common feature of mental health problems, and anxiety is no exception. You don’t have to have a diagnosed anxiety disorder to feel the impact the stress and worry can have on your sleep patterns.
Reduce Anxiety, Sleep Soundly
To reduce anxiety and stress:
- Meditate. Focus on your breath — breathe in and out slowly and deeply — and visualize a serene environment such as a deserted beach or grassy hill.
- Exercise. Regular exercise is good for your physical and mental health. It provides an outlet for frustrations and releases mood-enhancing endorphins. Yoga can be particularly effective at reducing anxiety and stress.
- Prioritize your to-do list. Spend your time and energy on the tasks that are truly important, and break up large projects into smaller, more easily managed tasks. Delegate when you can.
- Play music. Soft, calming music can lower your blood pressure and relax your mind and body.
- Get an adequate amount of sleep. Sleeping recharges your brain and improves your focus, concentration, and mood.
- Direct stress and anxiety elsewhere. Lend a hand to a relative or neighbor, or volunteer in your community. Helping others will take your mind off of your own anxiety and fears.
- Talk to someone. Let friends and family know how they can help, and consider seeing a doctor or therapist.
To sleep more soundly:
- Make getting a good night’s sleep a priority. Block out seven to nine hours for a full night of uninterrupted sleep, and try to wake up at the same time every day, including weekends.
- Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine. Avoid stimulants like coffee, chocolate, and nicotine before going to sleep, and never watch TV, use the computer, or pay bills before going to bed. Read a book, listen to soft music, or meditate instead.
- Make sure your bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet. Consider using a fan to drown out excess noise, and make sure your mattress and pillows are comfortable.
- Use your bedroom as a bedroom — not for watching TV or doing work — and get into bed only when you are tired. If you don’t fall asleep within 15 minutes, go to another room and do something relaxing.
- Regular exercise will help you sleep better, but limit your workouts to mornings and afternoons.
- Avoid looking at the clock. This can make you anxious in the middle of the night. Turn the clock away from you.
- Talk to your doctor if you still have problems falling asleep. You may need a prescription or herbal sleep remedy.
Sleeping well directly affects your mental and physical health and the quality of your waking life. Fall short and it can take a serious toll on your daytime energy, productivity, emotional balance, and even your weight. Yet many of us regularly toss and turn at night, struggling to get the sleep we need. There is a solution. Making simple but important changes to your daytime routine and bedtime habits can have a profound impact on how well you sleep, leaving you feeling mentally sharp, emotionally balanced, and full of energy all day long.
If you wake during the night feeling anxious about something, make a brief note of it on paper and postpone worrying about it until the next day when it will be easier to resolve. Similarly, if a great idea is keeping you awake, make a note of it on paper and fall back to sleep knowing you’ll be much more productive after a good night’s rest. Keep the lights dim and avoid screens so as not to cue your body that it’s time to wake up.