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We all know about personal hygiene, but have you ever heard of sleep hygiene!?
Sleep hygiene is the collection of habits we preform before, during, and after we go to sleep for the night. These habits should be ones that balance your circadian rhythm – making sure you’re not too tired while at the same time ensuring you’re not too awake.
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How is Sleep Connected with Mental Health?
Sleep deprivation and poor behavioral health have been inextricably linked by science.
In a recent study, reported by Medical News Today, it was found that children who had irregular bedtimes were more likely to develop bad behavior.
And this is just how lack of sleep affects children! think about how it affects adults who are often far more sleep deprived. Yikes!
It’s even worse for those of us who have mental health issues. In a cruel twist of fate, sleep deprivation not only worsens many mental health conditions, it’s also a symptom of those same disorders. Leading to an ouroboros of insomnia and deteriorating mental health for many patients.
Why is Good Sleep Hygiene Important for Your Mental Health?
Lack of sleep can harm your mental health. On the flip side, sleep can also be some of the best medicine for those struggling through a bad episode.
However, in order to be really beneficial, that sleep has to be quality. That’s where a good sleep hygiene routine comes in. Creating habits that encourage deep REM sleep will help your brain’s neurotransmitters and hormones to work properly. This helps your brain fight the good fight against mental health issues.
And we could all use a little help in that department sometimes!
How to Develop a Good Sleep Hygiene Routine
So now you know why good sleep hygiene is important. Now you just need to practice it!
“Easier said than done”, said every insomniac ever!
It’s true, these habits can be hard to get into, especially for someone combatting depression and/or executive dysfunction. Believe me, I know!
That’s why we’re going to break it down into manageable steps for you today! Just like we did with our articles on How to Create a Mentally Healthy Safe Space and Meditation Made Easy, we’ll be laying it out in a way that gives you the highest emotional payoff for the lowest emotional cost.
So without further ado here’s a guide to help you get some sleep!
1. Start Small With your Sleep Hygiene Routine
Starting small is actually harder than it appears when it comes to building a good sleep routine. Why? Well I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of many things worse than staring at the ceiling waiting for sleep.
Which means I’ll literally try annnnnything to get to sleep. Which sometimes leads to unsustainable and poor coping mechanisms just to get myself to the heck to bed.
So the trick is to build sustainable, easy to follow habits that help you in the long term.
As with any habit building, it’s good to start small by making some easy changes in your environment:
- Turn the A/C down – sleeping in a cooler than usual room helps your body adjust to sleep more quickly. However, be mindful not to make the room too cool (not below 68F) because that can cause you to wake up through the night due to discomfort.
- Consider Keeping Animals off the Bed – okay don’t @ me on this one guys, I love cuddling with my fur babies as much as anyone. But sometimes I have to admit, their movement makes it hard for me to get truly restful sleep. So when I need agood night’s rest, Fido sleeps on the couch.
- Make Sure the Room is Really Dark – Sleeping with all lights and electronics off is critical to getting a good night’s rest – but it may not be enough. Unbeknownst to you your phone may be going off in the middle of the night, disturbing your REM sleep. Remember to flip your phone over before sleeping or put it on “Do Not Disturb” mode. Unplugging electronics like TVs and game systems can also be helpful in this instance.
2. Set Up a Positive Before Bed Routine
There are two parts to getting good rest: falling asleep and staying asleep.
Both are equally important for getting optimum sleep. That’s why it’s critical to set up a good bed time routine! One that’s filled with things that will encourage you to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
Here’s a couple strategies on how to do that!
- Have a cup of chamomile tea – chamomile has a mild sedative effect (and no caffeine) so it’s perfect for your bedtime routine. Plus it’s just comforting to have a hot beverage right before bed. Bigelow makes my favorite version of the tea, but there are also a zillion other kinds of sleepy time teas if chamomile isn’t your thing!
- Take a sleepytime supplement – I’ve found that taking just one melatonin (the hormone that helps you stay asleep) an hour before bed helps me sleep through the night. Others swear by Passionflower supplements and teas. Still others believe Valerian is the way to go. It’s all about what works for you! Check out some great products from Amazon below (affiliate links):
- 3. Release anxiety and worry – For many of us dealing with mental health issues, bedtime is a nightmare. This is because it’s the time when our brain seems to be the most active, keeping us awake. Something that works for me is to release the anxiety I’ve built up during the day through a “brain dump” style of journaling. This gets a lot of the thoughts out of my head, making it easier to go to sleep.
- 4. Do the same thing every night – Habits are formed by repetition so doing the same things at the same time each night is going to help your brain adapt to the habit faster. This means going to bed, taking your supplements, having your tea, and doing your meditations or journal pages at the exact same time each night. If you do this, you’ll notice over time that you’ll fall asleep faster.
3. Set Up a Positive Wake Up Routine
Have you ever woke up on the wrong side of the bed? I can bet you were cranky the whole day afterwards. I would be too!
That just goes to show: waking up is just as important as going to sleep is to maintain good sleep hygiene! That’s why it’s also good to have an easy to follow wake up routine.
Here’s a couple ways to accomplish this:
- Wake up at the same time everyday – just like you’d want to go to sleep at the same time, you want to do the same upon waking. Even on weekends and days off (sorry)! This keeps your circadian rhythm steady.
- Let the light in – speaking of circadian rhythm, it’s important to open the curtains and get some natural light first thing in the morning. This is a great signal to your brain to stop producing melatonin and will help you feel awake faster. If it’s not very bright where you live, you can use a light therapy lamp to get the same effect.
- Have breakfast – I know this is kind of a “no duh”, but yeah, it’s important to have breakfast every morning. But not just for the reasons you think – a lot of breakfast foods like eggs have Tryptophan, which makes our bodies produce Serotonin. Which is great for those of us who struggle to wake up because of depression.
4. Be Mindful of Your Sleep During the Day
Yeah, I know – it’s kind of weird to think about your sleep schedule when going about daily activities. But a lot of things we do during the day affect how we sleep at night. That’s why it’s so important to be mindful of our daily activities.
Here’s a few things to consider during the day:
- Limit caffeine – Yep, I hate this conventional advice as much as you do. But it’s true. Having loads of caffeine during the day can make it almost impossible to get REM sleep. I find it’s good for me to have one cup of black tea in the morning and one in the afternoon around 2 (never after 4). Anything more and I have a hard time sleeping later.
- Don’t take long naps – Don’t get me wrong, long naps are glorious! But they might not be so great if you’re trying to maintain a good sleep hygiene routine. Taking more than a 20/30 minute nap in a day makes it so much harder for me to fall asleep at night.
- Eat for good sleep – Similar to what you drink, what you eat makes a big difference in your sleep. Foods high in good fat like salmon, eggs, seeds, poultry and tree nuts help your stomach produce Serotonin and Tryptophan during the day. This will help you get sleepy later on at night (and improve your overall mood).
And there you have it – a small but comprehensive guide on building a sustainable sleep hygiene routine. I hope these tips help you get some decent sleep!
Let me know if I’ve missed anything on this list or tell me about some things you do to get good sleep in the comments below!!
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