An appropriate amount of quality sleep is fundamental in helping us maintain our mental, emotional and physical health; we’re often advised to get enough rest when trying to manage stress, anxiety and depression. The problem with this recommendation is that all of these mental health challenges regularly interfere with our ability to sleep.
Sleep is quite literally restorative. It’s good medicine. When we fall into a restful slumber our body repairs tissue and muscle, replenishes energy and nourishes nerve cells that maintain healthy brain function; including increased activity in areas that regulate thought, feelings and memory, aiding our emotional stability — these are just some of the reasons we need to get enough sleep.
Bouts of sleep deprivation can produce a profoundly negative impact on our general well-being. Experiencing a lack of sleep can be so detrimental it weakens our immune system, decreases focus and even triggers mood changes, intense fatigue, anxiety and/or depression; which, if you’re already struggling with your mental health for other reasons, develops a vicious cycle that becomes even harder to break out of.
So what can we do to improve our sleep during times of stress, anxiety and depression?
Ultimately, it all comes down to establishing a sleep routine and sticking to it; this will support your body’s ability to recognise when it needs to unwind and prepare for rest, offering yourself a decent chance at improving your slumber. Everyone looking to enhance their sleep experience will benefit from these tips; but if you’re struggling through insomnia that’s set off by stress, anxiety and/or depression, here’s what has been working for me …
- If your schedule/lifestyle allows for this, spend some time outside in the daylight. Our circadian rhythm helps to regulate when we’re supposed to be asleep/awake; it relies on sunlight cues to accomplish this, so if you spend all day inside, it can get easily disrupted.
- If it’s timed right, taking a short, 30-45 minute energy-boosting nap can support someone suffering from sleep deprivation get through the day. Known as recovery naps (making up for lost sleep), this form of respite can improve focus and restfulness if they aren’t taken too late in the day/last too long; take a recovery nap if needed, but make sure it’s before 3 pm.
- Reducing caffeine intake throughout the day is favourable, but if you require the fuel to keep you going; it’s most beneficial to stop drinking coffee/tea or other caffeinated drinks at least 3 hours before your bedtime. As a stimulant, caffeine blocks our adenosine receptor that promotes sleepiness, so we absolutely need to allow time for these effects to be lessened before we head to bed.
- The key to any routine is its repetition of action/s and timing. If we get up and go to bed at the same time every day; as much as we can/life allows, it will help our circadian rhythm stay on track; preparing our bodies to recognise when it’s time to catch forty winks. If you need to change a disrupted sleep schedule to a new time for rest; make small adjustments of 15-30 minutes every few days until you reach your desired bedtime.
- Promote relaxation after each day and do some simple stretches for 5-10 minutes before you get into bed. They not only feel good, but they can also ease muscle aches/tensions that frequently occur during bouts of anxiety and stress — here are 10 stretches you can do before bed that may help.
- Stop reading your mobile phone in bed just before you try to go to sleep. There are a number of reasons why scrolling through your phone as you lay in bed is bad for you; the one I’m focusing on, however, is connected to working through mental health challenges. If you’re mindlessly scanning through social media or looking through the news, chances are you’re going to come across something triggering and upsetting. If you’re already combating stress, anxiety and depression, reading something disconcerting can play over and over in your mind impeding the ability to fall asleep. There are things you can use your phone for at night (see below) but reading is probably one to avoid.
- One way a smartphone can be utilized during the nighttime is to turn on its ‘Do Not Disturb’ function; then listen to some calming music and relaxing sounds from nature. I enjoy the free version of Calm, a meditation and sleep app because it features a selection of audio files; including a beach at sunset, a woodland stream, a light thunderstorm with rain and even celestial white noise. Everything is playable outside the app, so I can keep my phone screen off and eliminate any glare or disruption from blue light to create a tranquil space. This isn’t an ad/promotion for Calm; it’s just been extremely effective at quieting the exhausting, intrusive thoughts I experience when my anxiety is especially severe; there are many other meditation apps you can try.
- Use lavender essential oil to aid relaxation by creating a bed linen/pillow spray that will encourage a gentle drift into slumber as you inhale its calming scent. Lavender contains chemicals rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream (linalyl acetate and linalool) and is known to lower the heart rate, reduce anxiety and relieve insomnia. Combine two cups of water, fifteen drops of lavender essential oil and one tablespoon of witch hazel in a clean spray bottle; shake to combine then lightly mist over your pillows, sheets and blankets.
- The most straightforward way you can ensure your nights are undisturbed is to sleep on the best quality mattress you can buy. It doesn’t have to be the most expensive but it should meet as many of your needs as possible and suit your sleeping style. When buying a new mattress, there are many things to consider, including how well it supports spine alignment; if it can regulate temperature or maintain sleeping positions; and what level of firmness reduces aches and pains, etc. Treat it like an asset piece; achieving sleep that will support, nourish and restore your mental health is an investment.
Building a sleep routine and finding what works for you can be a bit frustrating; it does involve an element of trial and error, but stick with it and see it through. I hope you discover something within these suggestions that will improve how you rest and create space to care for your well-being.
Do you have a sleep routine that works for you? Have you tried any of these tips? What do you do when you can’t sleep?
If you experience chronic insomnia (it lasts for more than three months) you need to visit your doctor and rule out any underlying medical issues that may be causing it.
The 9 Best Foods And Drinks To Have Before Bed – HealthLine