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Sleep & Mental Health

February 7th, 2022

We’ve all been there at some point– tossing and turning, watching the clock and calculating how much sleep we’ll get if we fall asleep right NOW, dreading the day ahead. In fact, as many as one in four people experience sleep difficulties, which can include trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, waking up too early, sleeping too much, or sleep that is not restorative. 

Sleep is one of the most important factors in mental wellness; when it’s going well, sleep is protective and helps us better cope with what’s ahead of us. But when it’s not going well, our ability to cope plummets and life with mental wellness struggles is that much more difficult.

So, what can you do about it? If you’ve chatted with your doctor and ruled out any medical conditions that might be contributing to your sleep difficulties, then it might be time to consider your sleep hygiene practices. Sleep hygiene refers to the habits and attitudes you have around your sleep, and making some healthy changes in your routine can make a world of difference in helping you get the consistent, restorative sleep you deserve. 

Consider the following sleep hygiene tips, and experiment with making some changes to support better sleep. Start small, experimenting with one or two strategies and using them consistently to evaluate your results:

  1. Ensure that your sleeping environment is comfortable. Minimize noise (or use a white noise machine), block out light, make sure that the temperature is not too hot or too cold, and make sure that your bedding is supportive and comfortable.
  1. Have a relaxation practice. Intentionally relaxing, either through a hot bath, meditation, deep breathing, or a muscle relaxation exercise, can help prepare your mind and body for sleep.
  1. Prioritize exercise during the day. Exercise has been shown to improve quality of sleep. Aim to move your body in some capacity every day. Avoid exercising within 2 hours of bedtime, as this can be stimulating.
  1. Have a bedtime routine. Practice habits every night that help to cue your mind and body that it’s almost time to sleep. For example, plan to shower, brush your teeth, dress for bed, and listen to soft music prior to bedtime.
  1. Schedule your sleep. Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day (yes, even on weekends), regardless of how well you slept, so your body gets used to a regular sleep rhythm.
  1. Reserve your bed for sleep (and sex) only. Try to avoid watching TV, using your phone, reading, etc. in bed, as these activities can be stimulating for your mind.
  1. Sleep when you’re sleepy. Aim to sleep when you feel sleepy, and get out of bed to do something boring or relaxing if you haven’t fallen asleep in 20-30 minutes. When you start to feel sleepy, return to your bed.
  1. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, etc. Caffeine (found in coffee, some teas, soft drinks, and chocolate) within 4 hours of bedtime is sure to keep you up. Alcohol disrupts sleep patterns and prevents you from getting a restorative sleep.
  1. Try to skip the nap. It can feel so tempting to nap in the day, especially when you haven’t slept well the night before, but naps may disrupt your sleep cycle further. Try to save that tired feeling for bedtime.
  1. Mind your worrying habit. It can be normal to find yourself worrying late at night, when the house is quiet and the thoughts are loud. Practice becoming aware of when you find yourself worrying, and putting your attention on your breathing. When your mind inevitably wanders, bring the attention back to the breath. You might also try writing down your worries as they pop up, reminding yourself that they will still be there in the morning, or scheduling a “worry time” each day to explore what’s bothering you.
  1. Reframe your thoughts about sleep. Many of us worry about how much sleep we will get, watching the clock tick down minute-by-minute to our scheduled wake-up time. This usually makes the problem worse. Examine your beliefs about your sleep – many of us “catastrophize” (or think only about the worst-case scenario) regarding our ability to function on a poor night’s rest. Realistically, you may be tired and grumpy during the day, but you will get through it (as you’ve done many times before), and will be back in bed the following night before you know it. A therapist can help you manage and reframe your thoughts if they are highly disruptive to your sleep.

If your sleep is impacting your mental health and changing up your sleep hygiene practices aren’t helping, it may be time to reach out for some additional support. A licensed, qualified clinical counsellor can support you in getting a more consistent, satisfying sleep. 

Written by: Jennifer Baker, MEd, RCC, PMH-C 

Want to learn more how Counsellors can support you on changing habits for a better sleep? Visit our Registered Clinical Counselling services webpage or call us today: 604-425-1550. If you are unsure if you need additional support, our Counsellors offer a free 15-min initial consultation. 

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