Sleep is *essential* to good mental health. I’d like to highlight the word essential here. We all know this on some level, we’ve heard about how important sleep is, but we don’t necessarily prioritize our sleep. There is literally no way to overemphasize the essential nature of sleep to our mental health. If you are experiencing anxiety or depression or any other type of mental health concern, working on getting sufficient sleep needs to be at the very top of your list. Lack of sleep puts us in a constant state of vigilance or that feeling of being ‘this close’ to overload or breakdown or anxiety.
I’m going to provide a long list of sleep hygiene tips, I know that many of these are easier said than done. Sometimes our lives, jobs, babies, or sick kids get in the way of a sleep routine that would be ideal. The biggest hint here is self compassion. If you can’t get to ideal just do the best you can. If you're struggling to maintain a routine even though it seems like it should be possible, perhaps seek the help of therapist or sleep professional.
Sleep Hygiene Tips:
Maintain a regular sleep routine: Go to bed at the same time. Wake up at the same time. Ideally, your schedule will remain the same (+/- 20 minutes) every night of the week.
Try to work with your natural rhythms: If you've always been a night owl, it's okay to stay up until you get sleepy, and sleep later in the morning. Just try to keep it consistent, even on weekends.
Don’t stay in bed awake for more than 5-10 minutes: If you find your mind racing, or worrying about not being able to sleep during the middle of the night, get out of bed, and sit in a chair in the dark. Do your mind racing in the chair until you are sleepy, then return to bed. If this happens several times during the night, that is OK. Just maintain your regular wake time.
You can set up an insomnia spot: Use a dim book light (avoid backlit-tablet/phone readers, or if you must, use blue-light filter and lowest light setting) to read something boring or some other non-stimulating task (listen to a guided meditation, legos, coloring, knitting, cross-stitch) until you feel sleepy. Avoid TV or internet during these periods! That will just stimulate you more than desired.
Naps are okay: As long as you wake 6-7 hours before your nightly bedtime. Avoid naps if you have trouble falling or staying asleep until your routine is set and your body is in the habit of sleeping through the night.
Avoid watching TV or reading in bed: When you watch TV or read in bed, you associate the bed with wakefulness. The bed is reserved for two things – sleep and sex.
Drink caffeinated drinks with caution: The effects of caffeine may last for up to 8 hours after ingestion. Caffeine can fragment sleep, and cause difficulty initiating sleep. If you drink caffeine, use it only before noon. Remember that soda, tea, and dark chocolate (the amount in milk chocolate is tiny, but if you are very sensitive . . . ) contain caffeine as well.
Cigarettes, alcohol, and sleep medications all cause fragmented less-restful and restorative sleep.
Move regularly: Walk or Exercise before 2 pm every day. Daytime movement promotes continuous sleep. Avoid vigorous exercise before bedtime. Rigorous exercise circulates endorphins into the body which may cause difficulty initiating sleep. An easy walk in the cool air before bed can be helpful.
Have a quiet, comfortable bedroom: Set your bedroom thermostat at a comfortable cool (60-65 F) temperature. Our bodies are programed to sleep as the air cools at night. Turn off the TV and other extraneous noise that may disrupt sleep. Background ‘white noise’ like a fan is OK. Your bedroom should be dark.
If your pets awaken you, keep them outside the bedroom.
Turn off bright lights an hour or two before bed, avoid "blue light" from screens. The blue light stimulates the brain and delays the release of sleep hormones.
Have a comfortable mattress.
If you are a ‘clock watcher’ at night, hide the clock. If you are trying to decide if it’s been five minutes and time to move to your insomnia chair, just estimate the time. Clock watching can induce feelings of anxiety.
Have a comfortable pre-bedtime routine: A warm bath, shower (this can help cool the body, makes you sleepy); Meditation, or quiet time; Read a "boring" book; Avoid having hard conversations an hour or two before bed; Herbal teas or scents like camomile and lavender, can promote relaxation.
Here is a link to good sleepy-time podcasts.
Lisa Butterworth, LPC, NCC has a masters degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Idaho State University, primarily working with issues of relational health, faith transitions and journeys, women's issues and sexuality. She is the founder of the popular Feminist Mormon Housewives website and support group.