Everyone knows that sleep is important. But what happens to our mental health without it?
Sleep plays a large role on our mental wellbeing and daily functioning. However inadequate sleep is quite common, affecting 33-45% of Australian adults.
When it comes to the workplace, a report by the Australian Sleep Foundation found that in the space of three months 1 in 4 adults reported making errors at work because of sleepiness or sleep problems.
There are times when gaining a good night’s sleep can be difficult. Increased responsibilities, experiencing a period of change, or going through life’s ups and downs can all contribute to sleeplessness. Even those who identify as ‘good sleepers’ experience difficulty sleeping from time to time leaving them feeling tired and run down the next day. Thankfully restful sleep tends to return once periods of hardship are over.
During times when poor sleep continues restlessness can be a symptom of a mental health diagnosis (e.g., depression and anxiety), or a side-effect of some medications. Recent research suggests that addressing these sleep problems head-on, can have a positive impact on both mental and physical health.
If you are experiencing difficulty gaining good quality sleep, a good starting point is to see your doctor and discuss the issue with them. That way any physical causes of poor sleep can be ruled out or addressed, and a strategy for addressing sleep can be explored.
Often in an effort to regain our sleep, we start changing behaviour; we stay in bed for longer or sleep in to ‘catch up’ on our hours of restlessness. We may find ourselves consuming greater amounts of caffeine throughout the day to stay alert and awake.
Having a look at our behaviours related to a lack of sleep may be the key to improving the quality of sleep.
Below are some suggestions (called Sleep Hygiene recommendations) aimed at improving sleep.
Stick to a regular bedtime and wake time
It can be tempting to sleep in on weekends, however, that catch-up sleep could interfere with your ability to get to sleep at your regular time the next evening.
Limit caffeine intake in the hours leading up to bed
Caffeine can be found in coffee, tea, colas, and chocolates. Caffeine has a half-life of 4-6 hours, meaning its stimulating properties last for some time. If you are experiencing difficulty with getting to sleep, it could be worth limiting your caffeine intake, particularly later in the day.
Regular exercise is recommended for sleep promotion, as well as for general physical and mental health. However, ensure you are not exercising too late in the evening- any exercise less than 4 hours before bed is not recommended.
It is recommended that alcohol is avoided 4-6 hours before bed as it interrupts the quality of sleep.
Avoid daytime naps
The longer we are awake, the more ‘sleep pressure’ we build up. Napping can reduce that sleep pressure, resulting in difficulty falling asleep at bedtime. Whenever possible, it is best to avoid naps. If naps are required (e.g., for safety), try to limit the nap to 30 minutes and keep to before 3 pm.
Create a sleep ritual
Engaging in a relaxing ritual before bed each night can help signal to your body that bedtime is approaching.
Develop strategies for managing worrying thoughts
It is normal to have times of added stress or worry, however, bedtime is not the best time to deal with those worries. It helps to dedicate a time in your day to address important issues, and write a list of things you are hoping to achieve the next day. If you are experiencing difficulty managing pressures or hardship, consider accessing some support from a trusted person like a family member, friend, counsellor, community support worker, or GP.