Sleep, we are told, is one of the most important things we can do for our mind, body and soul. So why is it that when we are anxious our minds don’t let us do that one thing we know we need to do, sleep, rest and recharge. A study in the Guardian this August showed that during Covid the number of people with troubled sleeping rose from one in six to one in four. Health worries, financial worries, it’s no wonder so many of us are struggling to get the sleep we need. I want to talk about sleep, good sleep and how to create the perfect environment for your anxious mind to rest.
WHY IS SLEEP IMPORTANT?
We all know it’s important but I think we could all do with a refresh on why. Sleep is the equivalent to plugging your phone into charge, while giving it software and app updates. The brain is spending time processing everything that has happened to you over the course of your day and simultaneously directing your body to make vital repairs to your organs. If you do not sleep, there can be some dire consequences. Research shows lack of sleep can lead to:
Depression and Anxiety
DO I HAVE A SLEEP DISORDER?
Chances are from time to time you’ve had a rough night's sleep. Sleep disorders are characterised by abnormal sleep patterns that interfere with your physical and mental wellbeing. This can be either short term, over a couple of nights, or longer term, over weeks or even years. Whichever you identify with, if it’s having a negative impact it’s time to take action.
HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR SLEEP
Everyone is unique, and everyone's reasons for not getting the sleep they need will be different. There is no one size fits all approach to getting your forty winks. Here are five of the best and varied ways to improve your chances of a good night's sleep.
1. Practice Meditating
Meditation at its core is about calming the mind, allowing thoughts to pass through without judgement, rather than following them. It gives the mind space, a sense of calm and a sense of peace. You don’t find nirvana on the first attempt, and it is referred to as a practice for that reason. It takes time to train the mind to slow down.
There are some great apps, youtube videos and books out there to help you explore Meditation. Personally I am a fan of the Calm app, and Ten to Zen by Owen O’Kane.
Regular physical activity is not only good for your body and mind but also your sleep. Specifically in the morning or afternoon, it can impact your sleep quality by raising your body temperature a few degrees. Later in the day, when your internal thermostat drops back to its normal range, this can trigger feelings of drowsiness and help you drop off to sleep.
3. Prioritise Your To Do List and Journaling
If you are up at night thinking, worrying, planning; take some time before you head to bed to write down your ‘To Do List’ for the next day. Be specific, allocate time to each task you want to achieve tomorrow. If your worries are more general I encourage you to keep a journal and write before going to bed. You can read more about the benefits of journaling in my blog here.
4. Limit Screens
Get that tech out of your room! Seriously, you should aim to have no screen time an hour before you go to bed. This may seem almost impossible in this day and age but these screens mess with your body clock, (circadian rhythm) and suppresses the release of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, and makes it more difficult to fall asleep.
5. Sleep Hygiene
Make your bed somewhere designed for sleep. The room should be dark, pitch back if you can get there, the temperature should be around 18 degrees C. Think about when you last flipped your mattress, changed your sheets or pillows. All these things make a difference to how you feel about your bed. You want to make it somewhere you want to be.
I wouldn’t recommend doing all of the above, at least not all at once! Commit to trying one of these suggestions for a week. See if it makes a difference for you. If it does great, keep going and try another for a week and so forth.
Remember whatever you are going through, you are not alone.