Sleep is essential for the normal, healthy functioning of the human body and the mind. While you sleep, your brain stays active, overseeing a wide variety of biological maintenance tasks that keep your body running in top condition. The quality of your sleep directly affects the quality of your waking life, including your attention, motivation, emotions, problem-solving skills and ability to cope with stress. A healthy adult needs between 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep per night to function at their best. A nightly, restful sleep should be seen as a necessity, not a luxury.
Chronic sleep problems affect 50-80% of individuals living with a mental illness, compared to 10-18% of the general population. The amount and quality of sleep a person gets strongly influences the symptoms of their mental illness. Sleep deprivation has been shown to trigger symptoms such as suicidal thoughts, paranoia, agitation and hyperactivity. In addition, it has been demonstrated that individuals living with mental illness that are experiencing insomnia are less likely to respond to treatment. While excessive sleep (hypersomnia) can be a problem in those living with mental illness, the two most common complaints are not being able to fall asleep (onset insomnia) and waking up early and not being able to go back to sleep (late insomnia).
Here are eight simple things you can do to improve your sleeping.
Avoid Caffeine, Alcohol and Nicotine – These substances will alter the quality of your sleep and should be avoided if possible.
Avoid Stimulating Activities Close to Bedtime – These include television, use of the computer, phone calls or deep or intense conversations with a spouse, family member or friend.
Avoid Eating Before Bed – Digestion can interfere with falling asleep. Make sure you do not eat anything within an hour of going to bed.
Exercise – Exercising reduces stress and will help you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly. Try and finish exercising at least three hours before bedtime or instead work out early in the day.
Develop a Sleep Schedule – Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day sets the body’s internal clock to expect sleep at a certain time night after night.
Sleep Cycles – If you find it difficult to get up in the morning, try setting a wake-up time that’s a multiple of 90 minutes, the length of the average sleep cycle. For example, if you go to bed at 10 pm, set your alarm for 5:30 instead of 6 or 6:30. You may feel more refreshed when you wake up because you are getting up at the end of a sleep cycle when your body and brain are already close to wakefulness.
Relaxation Techniques – Meditation, prayer, deep breathing exercises and progressive muscle relaxation can counter anxiety and racing thoughts that make it difficult to fall asleep.
Establish a Soothing Pre-Bedtime Routine – Ease the transition from wake time to sleep time with a period of relaxing activities an hour or so before bed. For example, you might take a bath, read a book, or practice relaxation techniques.
-Dr. Matthew Stanford