Addressing Sleep Issues
Importance of Sleep
When it comes to the most important things in life, sleep is right up there in the big 3 with food and water. Poor quality or not enough sleep can have negative impacts on your mental and physical health, quality of life and even your overall level of safety. Sleep plays a vital role in supporting growth and development, healthy brain function and maintaining your physical health. Not to mention, if you’ve been tossing and turning all night you’re no fun to be around the next day!
How Serious is a Sleep Deficiency?
If you suffer insomnia or other sleeping disorders you’ll be no stranger to the serious impacts of sleep deficiency. Although it doesn’t feel like you’re not doing much, your body is working very hard while you sleep. During sleep, your brain heals and strengthens old neural pathways and creates new ones to help improve and maintain your ability to learn. Without this process, sleep deficiency can some important areas of the brain. This can have dire consequences. Not getting enough quality sleep can make it hard to focus, make decisions, be creative, solve problems, cope with anything new and control your emotions and behavior.
Emotionally, sleep deficiency is associated with depression, anxiety, suicide and risk-taking behaviors. It can even cause social difficulties and loss of relationships because it impacts your ability to get along well with others. So not only are you more emotional than usual, you’re also more impulsive and not thinking very logically. When physical health is considered, restorative sleep helps to repair your heart and blood vessels. Long term sleep deficiency has been associated with a higher risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, heart disease and obesity. Good, healthy sleep helps to manage your hormones, which impacts weight, appetite, growth and development, muscle and tissue repair. Without healthy sleep, none of these functions can occur properly. Sleep deficiency can even impact your ability to fight off a common cold and can cause permanent changes to how your immune system functions.
I’m sure you’re familiar with at least a few of these effects of poor sleep. After all…. you’re reading an article on how to address sleep issues.
So if you can’t sleep, or you can’t sleep well. How can you fix it?
If you take a long time to fall asleep and wake often during the night as well as feel sleepy during the daytime, chances are your sleep hygiene is not that great. Rest assured though, just a few small changes might change your sleep (and your life!)
Working to improve quantity and quality of sleep, starts with good sleep hygiene. No this doesn’t necessarily mean taking a shower before bed (although that might help). Sleep hygiene refers to developing healthy habits and setting up an environment that encourage a good night’s sleep.
Here are some way that you might be able to improve your sleep hygiene:
- Improve the environment – The environment you sleep in should be comfortable, relaxing and above all, encourage some good shut eye. The obvious places to start would be your mattress and pillows. These should be comfortable and suit your personal preferences. Then you should try and reduce light in the room. This includes bright lamps, overhead lights and electronics like phones, laptops and TV screens. These types of electronics produce the “blue” type of light which has been shown to impact your melatonin production. This is a vital chemical that helps your body to wind down and bring on sleep. So with more blue light, comes less melatonin and more sleep issues. In addition to being dark, the room should be cool and quiet. You might find that you like using ear plugs, or having “white noise” playing to help you to drown out any other noises.
- Avoid stimulants – This seems to be an obvious one, but still one that many people struggle with. Try not to have any caffeine (not just tea and coffee, but some desserts, soft drinks and even medications can include caffeine) close to bedtime. Nicotine can also act as a stimulant, so be careful using this near the time you want to go to sleep. Alcohol can also wreak havoc with your sleep. Although it is commonly used to help you get to sleep, in certain quantities it can actually do the opposite.
- Establish a relax and wind down routine – Humans are creatures of habit and respond best to predictability and routine. Your body is no different. Setting and following a predictable, relaxing pre-bedtime ritual helps to send signals to your brain and body that you intend to go to sleep. Your routine should suit your own personal preferences, but most importantly, it should be relaxing, the same each night and you should try and avoid exposure to blue light (yes this means no pre-sleep scrolling through Facebook). Some healthy things to include in your pre-bedtime routine might be a warm shower, reading a book, stretching or listening to some soft music.
- Get out in the sun – We mentioned melatonin earlier and how blue light impacts your body’s ability to produce this. Well, one way to help melatonin remain in balance is to ensure you get enough natural light during the day. If you balance your daytime exposure to natural light with exposure to darkness at nighttime, it helps to maintain a healthy and natural sleep cycle.
- Get moving – During the day, it’s important that your body has the opportunity to burn off energy. Exercising as little as 10 minutes per day can help encourage healthy sleep.
- Skip the nap – I know you might be tempted, and sometimes it might even help you feel better, but napping often makes your sleep issues worse. Short naps can sometimes help to improve mood, alertness and performance. However, anything longer than 30 minutes further disrupts your sleep cycle and just maintains any issues with nighttime sleep you might be experiencing.
Unfortunately, when it comes to sleeping there’s no quick and easy fix. However, you can see that none of the above suggestions are particularly complicated. With a few small changes, and a little time for your body to re-adjust, you might just find you’ll be catching more Z’s sooner than you thought!
If you find little improvement in your sleep after implementing the above suggestions, you may benefit from counselling to explore other options.
To learn more, book in with one of our friendly Therapists today.