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Shake off the sleep monster

Not only is poor sleep seen as a symptom of mental health difficulties, many people also believe that not getting enough sleep can be the cause of mental health problems.

Published: 23 November 2018

Looking after your mental wellbeing by getting the sleep you need

There is a close relationship between mental health and sleep. Not only is poor sleep seen as a symptom of mental health difficulties, many people also believe that not getting enough sleep can be the cause of mental health problems.

When we don’t get enough sleep we become tired, irritable, and it can have a big impact on our mood. It also affects our concentration in school, college or work, and can cause problems in our social lives too.

Getting enough sleep is important for our mental and physical wellbeing, but not being able to get to sleep can be incredibly frustrating.

How sleep can affect your mental health

If you’re struggling to sleep over a long period of time, this may lead to more challenges to your mental health, or it may make existing mental health challenges worse. Learn more about how sleep can affect your mental health here.

What could be affecting your sleep?

If you’re having trouble sleeping, it’s worth taking a look at what habits might be affecting your sleep. There are a number of different things that can prevent us from getting a good quality night’s sleep.

Poor sleep hygiene

Sleep hygiene refers to your sleeping habits and bedtime routine. If you’re someone who stays up late playing video games or talking online, then you probably have poor sleep hygiene. It’s also not a good habit to go to bed and get up at different times during the week, because this makes it harder for your body to get into a routine.

Good sleep hygiene means getting up and going to sleep at the same time every day, and avoiding things like screens and video games for at least an hour before bed.

Screen time

Did you know that staring at laptop, phones or TV stimulates your eyes and your brain? This makes it much harder to fall asleep because your mind is active and it will take time for things to calm down. Try to avoid staring at screens for the hour before you go to bed, and you’re more likely to fall asleep faster.

Caffeine

Caffeine has a big impact on sleep. Caffeine can be found in drinks like coffee, tea, fizzy drinks, and energy drinks. It can also stay in your system for hours, so it’s recommended that you avoid caffeine after 2pm if you want to avoid being kept awake at night.

Anxiety and stress

If you’re tossing and turning worrying all night, you’ll struggle to get to sleep. Anxiety and stress are two of the biggest things that can eat into our sleep. Try to do relaxing activities before going to bed, such as listening to music, relaxation exercises or mindfulness. At times worrying thoughts may come to mind – write it down and come back to it in the morning. Find something that works for you, and try to make a habit of doing it every night.

Alcohol

Drinking alcohol does make many of many people feel drowsy and tired, and it can actually affect our sleep really negatively. If you’re drinking alcohol, you’re better off stopping at least a few hours before going to bed.

Eating

Eating late and at inconsistent times isn’t good for your sleep, because your digestive system takes time to process what you’ve eaten, and your body might not feel like it’s ready to sleep. Try to eat earlier and at the same time every day.

How to get a good night’s sleep

Sometimes, it may feel like you’re never going to manage to get into a good sleep routine again. It can be frustrating when you’re not able to sleep, but there are things you can try to help you improve your sleep at night.

Create a sleep schedule

Going to bed and getting up at the same time every night will make a huge difference to your sleep. It might take a while to get used to this new schedule, but if you try to create a bedtime routine and stick with it, you will get used to it.

Every night before going to bed, do something that relaxes you. It might also help to think of something that will motivate you to get out of bed in the morning, like a really nice breakfast or an activity to start your day.

Manage your stress

This can be very difficult to overcome, but there are things you can do to help yourself. Try chatting to others about your worries, and if you’re finding it hard to cope, don’t be afraid to look for help.

Many people also find it helpful to write down their problems. Some people keep a notebook beside their bed and jot down any worries or thoughts that are stressing them out and keeping them from sleeping.

Use your bed for sleeping

You want your bed to be a place where you can relax and sleep. Getting into bed is like sending a message to your brain that it’s time to wind down. If you spend hours watching TV, browsing the internet, or doing work in bed, this message will be mixed, and it will be harder to get to sleep.

If you’re tossing and turning, it might help to get out of bed and do something relaxing in another room for a while until you feel ready to sleep.

Make your bedroom as quiet and dark as possible

Use a blackout blind and wear earplugs. In the evening time, try to keep the lights low and avoid exposing yourself to harsh light. Avoid looking at your phone or computer for at least an hour before bed and keep your actual bedroom as dark as possible.

Exercise during the day

Regular exercise during the day can be great for good quality sleep. However, try not to exercise up to two hours before bed, because this can have the opposite effect and leave you feeling too energised, which might keep you awake.

Talk to someone

If you have a lot on your mind and it’s getting in the way of your sleep, talk to someone about what’s going on. Turn to a parent, guardian, or another trusted adult and let them know how you feel. [Link to bottled up monster]

Are naps good for you?

Lots of us have been taught that naps are bad, but that isn’t necessarily true. There can actually be many health benefits to taking a nap, if you do it right.

The health benefits of napping

  • It can improve your mood
  • It can improve memory
  • It helps to reduce feelings of tiredness
  • It can reduce blood pressure

How to take a good nap

The key thing about naps is to avoid napping for too long. Try to keep your nap to 20 minutes at most. Anything more than that can leave you feeling groggy, but 20 minutes can help you to feel energised.

You might feel inclined to take a nap in the morning or evening, but try to resist this. Generally, the best time for napping is between 2pm and 3pm. This is because many people feel tired after lunch.[3] 

Avoiding all-nighters

Many people are tempted to stay up all night studying for an exam or trying to finish homework or a college assignment. Some people believe they work better at night, while others panic if they feel they haven’t done enough work, or left everything to the last minute.

If you regularly stay up all night to get work done, it can have some really negative health consequences, which can include:

  • Weight gain
  • Digestive problems
  • Reduced ability to remember information
  • Poor concentration
  • Poor decision making
  • Mood swings

How to avoid all-nighters

It’s best to avoid all-nighters if you can. Here are some things you can do to avoid staying up all night to get your work done:

Plan as far in advance as possible

As soon as you know when an assignment or essay is due, or when any other deadline is taking place, put it into your calendar. Planning ahead means you can know far in advance how much time you’ll need to put into different tasks, and will be able to spread out the work over a period of time.

Once you have the calendar, check it regularly to make sure nothing falls under the radar.

Break down big tasks into smaller ones

Some tasks can be big and intimidating. This can make you postpone them until it’s too late and you’re forced to spend the whole night cramming. If you identify smaller, easier actions that you can take to contribute towards the larger task, it will seem much more manageable and achievable.

Allocate enough time each week to tasks

If you know you have a big exam coming up, make sure you’re spending enough time each week studying for the exam. This will mean you won’t need to stay up late the night before cramming.

Prioritise sleep

As tempted as you might be to stay up all night, it’s better to make sleep a priority. Getting enough sleep will mean you can concentrate better the next day, you’re more likely to hold onto the information you learned during the day, and you’re likely to perform better.

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