Tips to Improve Sleep

Tips to Improve Sleep

We all need sleep. Sleep is important for our general health, consolidation of learning, and in reducing our mental health vulnerabilities. After a sleep challenged night, you may even find yourself crankier than usual (yes, it can impact on your mood, your serotonin as well as your dopamine levels)! You may find emotional regulation somewhat harder, and sometimes it may also impact on your executive functioning such as memory or decisionmaking skills.

 

Safe to say, sleep is important. So here it is, some tips to improve your sleep:

 

Commitment. We know sleep is important, and we are on a mission to sleep better. However, this can take time! Habits take time to form, and training your mind and body require time and commitment. This means you are willing to take a chance and commit to reviewing how you went with the strategies after a period (e.g. one month rather than one night) before you decide its effectiveness. Being clear why you need improvement in sleep, and a sleep log, can be helpful in keeping you on task.

 

Sleep cues. Just like how a mother would be on a lookout for their newborn’s signs of sleepiness, you will need to do the same for yourself. It is the easiest to notice this when you do feel sleepy. How might it feel like? Heavy eyelid? Slowed thinking? Yawning? Drowsy? Lapses in attention?

 

Sleep routine. Teach your brain when it is time to sleep. Consider incorporating a relaxing, wind down routine before bedtime to signal to your mind and body that it is time to get ready for bed. For example, this can be something as simple as a bedtime shower, non-caffeinated tea, calming activity like listening to songs, journaling, breathing exercise, or reading a book that calms you. Think of this as the ‘cooling down’ process for your body as you get your body ready to ‘turn off’ it’s main engine.

Try to keep your sleep and wake time consistent. Our brain likes it when things are predictable!

 

Learn what are the promoters to sleep for you. Sleep is like science customised to you. There are general principles from research on what promotes quality sleep, and then there are highly specific factors you need to examine that is specific to you. In short, you need to experiment, and you need to have data (which is why a sleep log is important).

 

As part of experimentation, you need to identify what are some promoters of your sleep in your environment and what are some barriers to sleep.

Promoters of sleep in your environment might look like:

  • Temperature of the room
  • Noise level (or sufficient white noise)
  • Texture of the bedsheets
  • Familiar and soothing smells
  • Dim lightings
  • Motion or any other sensory factors that work for you

 

Other promoters might look like:

  • Physically tiring out your body (but not 2 hours before bed)
  • Ensuring you have some natural sunshine and natural light in the morning when you wake.
  • Making sure you have eaten sufficiently, and not hungry before bed

Watch what can become barriers to sleep. It is a good idea to limit coffee and caffeine from 2pm. Note that this includes caffeinated drinks like coke, tea, and energy drinks!

 

Some other barriers may include:

  • Naps, because it reduce your overall sleep pressure and contributes to sleep challenges since you’ll tend to feel sleepy much later after the nap.
  • Electronics or screens. Try to limit it approximately an hour or two before bed when you start to wind down.
  • Worries/ rumination of thoughts. For example, stressing out about sleeping/ about the next day. This heightens stress level in your body, which in turn produces stress hormones that makes it harder for you to fall asleep.

 

Associate for success. In general, we want our brain to pair sleep and bed with feeling relaxed. Have a look at what you might do at night when you are unable to sleep within say, 20-30mins lying in bed awake. What do you tend to feel, think, or do? For example, you might notice you start getting restless and have thoughts like… “I’m never going to fall asleep! I’m going to be late for school/work tomorrow!” In circumstances like this, you need a strategy to retrain your brain and pair it with relaxation over time as much as possible.

  • Acceptance. Attune to your own body and notice that it is hard not being able to go to sleep, when you really want to. It’s frustrating and it is ok. You may end up falling asleep late, but it does not necessarily mean that your next day is a write off.
  • You can also visualise being in a safe and cozy environment. For example by the beachside, listening to the sound of the waves, imagining the sensation of toes in the sand as you watch the birds fly past you.
  • You can also attempt meditation whilst in bed or just before bed, or focus on your breathing while getting to sleep.
  • After 20/30mins awake, get out of bed and do something else. For example, read a book (or dictionary) under a dim light nearby, deep breathing, sudoku or listen to music. Once you feel sleepy again, re-attempt sleep in bed. Repeat as needed.

 

Practice self-compassion. If things did not go as planned, avoid the temptation to be critical to yourself or the situation. Remember, we want bedtime to be paired with relaxation and these can all take time. Notice the narrative you might use on yourself and consider if this is something you would say to a close friend. Consider this as an opportunity for you to reassess your roadmap to good sleep. Sometimes, it also helps to work with your therapist on what might be contributing to your sleep challenges.

 

If you would like to have a conversation further to improve your mental health and would like to engage with one of our clinicians to support your journey in flourishing, please contact us at Prosper Health Collective for further information on 6381 0071. 

Elizabeth Ang
elizabeth@prosperhealthcollective.com.au

Elizabeth Ang is a Clinical Psychologist Registrar at Prosper Health Collective. She has a Bachelor of Psychology (Honors), Masters of Applied Psychology in Organisational Psychology and a Masters of Applied Psychology in Clinical Psychology.