Your sleep quality can impact your mental health. Sleep issues are more common than you expect. In a recent study, researchers concluded that 10-18% of adults in the general population have sleep issues (Harvard Medical School, 2019). During the pandemic, falling asleep and staying asleep may be challenging due anxiety impacting your quality of sleep. Sleep issues and mental health issues are related and impact each other. For instance, some mental health conditions such as depression can cause sleep disturbances, and sleep disturbances can increase mental health symptoms. For this reason, if you have difficulty in decreasing your anxiety levels, you can focus on improving your sleep quality as an initial step to managing your anxiety.
How much sleep do you need?
Newborns (0-2 months) need 12-18 hours, infants (3-11 months) need 14-15 hours, toddlers (1-3 years) need 12-14 hours, preschoolers (3-5 years) need 11-13 hours, school age children (5-10 years) need 10-11 hours, teenagers (10-17 years) need 8.5-9.25 hours, and adults (18+ years) need 7-9 hours.
- Identify all possible sleep and mental health issues you may be suffering from: If it is taking you longer than 30 mins to fall asleep, you wake up frequently throughout the night and can’t fall back to sleep, you wake up earlier than expected, or you experience daytime symptoms like fatigue, sleepiness, or reduced energy, then you may have insomnia. Sometimes medical conditions can also impact your ability to sleep so these must also be addressed. In addition, insomnia and other sleep issues tend to get worse before an episode of mania or bipolar depression. Often, insomnia is a risk factor for developing anxiety disorders and it is highly common for people with posttraumatic stress disorder.
There is a close relationship between sleep issues and depression. Between 65-90% of adults with depression and 90% of children with depression have sleep problems. Other studies have found that about 1 in 5 people who have depression also have obstructive sleep apnea.
Talk to your psychotherapist, primary care physician, and sleep specialist to identify all medical and psychological factors that are causing you to sleep poorly.
- Make your bedroom into a cave and develop night-time rituals: For better sleep quality, it is advised that your bedroom be cold, dark, and quiet. The suggested bedroom temperature for sleep is between 60-67 °F. To achieve ideal body temperature, you may consider wearing socks. You can remove all blinking lights, blackout your curtains, turn the TV off, charge your phone in another room or at least leave it out of grabbing distance. If you must have your phone nearby, at least turn on the blue light filter. Also make sure to turn your phone off or keep it on silent Last but not least, invest in a good quality mattress and pillow. You spend a good portion of your life sleeping after all!
Practicing relaxing bedtime rituals increase your sleep quality. If you are sleeping with a sound machine, such a white noise machine, try something with a deeper tone. Recent studies at Penn State University concluded that sleeping with a pink noise, such as rusting leaves, steady rain, wind, heartbeats, instead of white noise is more effective in inducing deeper sleep. You can use several apps and YouTube videos to find the pink noise that works for you.
Exercising daily may significantly increase your overall sleep quality. Some people can exercise before bed, while other people feel as though it wakes them up. The most ideal time to exercise is generally early morning or afternoon. Routine exercising can decrease the risk of developing sleep disorders, can reduce stress, and burn off extra anxiety which will tire you out. The duration of exercise routine may change – once again this depends on the person and the exercise they choose to do. More than 10 minutes of aerobics can improve your sleep quality, you do not need to spend hours at the gym.
In addition to all of the above, try to get up at the same time every day despite how much sleep you had. Either do not take naps throughout the day or learn an efficient way of taking a power nap.
- Use your bed only to sleep: During the pandemic, it may be comfortable to do your office work, read, reply to your e-mails, watch TV, and eat, all while on your bed. However, your brain gets conditioned and learns to do all these activities in bed. The next time when you go to your bed to sleep, your brain is thinking, “Are you going to sleep or watch TV, or have racing thoughts like the past three nights?”. The good news is your brain can be unconditioned or re-trained. For this reason, I suggest you use your bed only to sleep. For example, try reading on your couch, eat in a different room, and try to create an office space anywhere at home that is separate from your bed. To avoid having racing thoughts, go to bed when you are exhausted and do not linger in bed. If you cannot fall asleep within 30 minutes, get up and do something else that does not include any screen time.
Finally, as you may all be aware, avoid nicotine, caffeine, alcohol, heavy meals, and spicy food before you go to bed. Please keep in mind that smoking calms you down because you are taking a deep breath, but nicotine causes you to feel awake. You can eliminate your habit of smoking before going to bed by replacing this habit with deep breathing exercises.
When is the time to see a therapist for sleep issues?
You can contact me if you:
- believe your depression or anxiety is impacting your sleep quality
- feel irritable or sleepy during the day
- have difficulty staying awake when sitting still
- watching television or reading, feel very tired while driving
- have difficulty concentrating
- are often told by others that you look tired
- react slowly
- have trouble controlling your emotions
- feel like you must take a nap almost every day
- or require caffeinated beverages to keep yourself going