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Getting a Good Sleep

Getting a Good Sleep
Getting a Good Sleep

Why is Sleep So Important?

Recall a time in your life where you’ve been pretty sleep deprived.

You probably experienced difficulties with motivation, attention, and memory. Maybe you found it harder than usual to process information and make decisions. You might even have found it a bit trickier to regulate your emotions and mood. It can make it a struggle to communicate with others effectively.

Thousands of sleep studies show us that not getting enough shut eye often leads to these challenges in functioning and more. Even the way people perceive and interpret information changes, and that can influence our social behaviours too. For example, research has found that when sleep deprived, people are more inclined to read others’ facial expressions as being negative rather than neutral. You can see how this might then colour the way we interact with the people in our lives. This also helps explain why we have the tendency to avoid social interactions when sleep deprived. This is problematic as we know that social connectedness is important for mental health.

On top of this, lack of sleep can also change the way we feel physically. Sleep deprivation can increase our perception of pain, make us more likely to crave unhealthy foods and exercise less, and over the long term, contribute to development of more severe physical health conditions including digestive and metabolic issues.

Chronic sleep deprivation can also be a safety hazard. It increases our chances of motor vehicle and workplace injuries and accidents.

Lack of sleep negatively affects our ability to think, to regulate our emotions, and to engage in healthy/helpful behavioursand let’s be honest – being sleepy throughout the day just doesn’t feel nice!


What are the Main Barriers to Good Sleep?

Prioritising sleep is one of those things that is sometimes easier said than done. Like any new health behaviour, it can be difficult to change old habits.

We call the behaviours around sleep your ‘sleep hygiene‘. Good sleep hygiene is important for keeping our circadian rhythms on track. Your circadian rhythm is the 24-hour body clocks that help to keep us alert during the day and sleepy at night. It regulates the body and brain processes that drive sleep, hunger, hormones, and more. When the circadian rhythm is out of order, it can have some very noticeable impacts on our general health, as well as our sleep! It responds to things like the light levels in our environment, when we eat, what time we wake up, stress, and more.

Engaging in good sleep hygiene helps to keep our circadian rhythms on track, which improves our overall wellbeing.

Sleep Hygiene Tips

  1. Consistency is Key. Try to wake up and go to sleep at roughly the same time every day. This helps our circadian rhythms to regulate the release of a range of hormones that help us to feel alert during the day and sleepy at night.
  2. Regulate Diet and Exercise. Exercise can increase the quality of sleep we have, but it’s important not to exercise too close to bedtime. This can actually make it harder for some people to fall asleep. Eating meals at regular times can help keep your circadian rhythm on track. Avoiding heavy meals close to bedtime can make it easier to nod off too.
  3. Caffeine and Alcohol. Try to avoid caffeine in the 6 hours before you plan on going to bed. Alcohol should also be limited in the evenings. You might think that an evening drink helps you nod off, but it actually worsens the quality of sleep you’ll be able to get!
  4. Limit Naps. Naps that are longer than 30 minutes can make it harder to sleep at night, and make you feel groggier during the day. Try to avoid taking long naps, particularly from mid-afternoon.
  5. Bedtime Routine. In the same way that a relaxing nighttime routine helps kids to get to sleep, adults should have something similar. Engage in a relaxing wind down routine each night before bed. This might include having a shower, reading or watching an episode of your favourite show. Some people practice mindfulness activities such as breathing and muscle relaxation exercises.
  6. Bright Light. Try to limit your exposure to bright light in the evening. Consider using soft lamp lighting instead of harsh overhead lighting. This includes reducing the brightness on your phone or computer, particularly if you find you spend time on them before bed.
  7. Managing Mental Health. If you are feeling highly stressed, this means your ‘fight or flight’ response is engaged. This system might’ve been helpful for running away from predators in the stone age, but this same system is also working to keep you awake. Seek support for managing symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression. Chances are if you tackle these mood symptoms, you may see flow on improvements for sleep.

It’s Common to Have Sleep Anxiety

Many people experience a vicious cycle of worrying about not getting enough sleep. We have a bad night rest, and it causes anxiety and stress. We worry about how horrible we’ll feel the next day, which then, of course…makes it even harder to sleep! In the morning, we’re likely to reflect on how bad our sleep was, and how horrible the day ahead is going to be. We give a lot of our focus to signs that reinforce how horrible it is to be so sleep deprived. This reinforces our anxiety about sleep.

If this spiral is familiar to you, you’re probably stuck in a cycle of sleep-related anxiety!

Here’s a helpful fact: The first hour after we wake, we experience ‘sleep inertia’ which is a period of impaired performance, mood, and increased grogginess. How you feel in the first hour after waking does not predict how you’ll feel later in the day.

But Consider This!

  1. What percentage of sleep deprived days have you made it through in your life so far? (I’m betting 100%.)
  2. Think of times where there has been an absolute catastrophe in your life. Have any of these been caused solely by your sleep deprivation and no other factors? (I’m guessing a very low amount!)
  3. What percentage of days in your life have you gone through the entire day feeling as sleepy as you do in the first hour after waking up? (I’m guessing again a very low amount.).

The point here if you experience sleep-related anxiety is prioritise sleep, but don’t fixate on it. Sometimes the more you worry about sleep the harder it is to come by.  Sleep is important, but if we must in the short term, we can usually get through the day with insufficient sleep.

Chances are if you’re struggling to sleep, there may be lifestyle factors or medical issues preventing you from getting a good snooze. In the same way that you might visit a dietitian to assist with improving your nutrition, visiting a psychologist can be helpful for identifying barriers to getting good sleep, and exploring strategies to improve your sleep.

Resources and More Information

The Sleep Health Foundation have excellent fact sheets for a range of sleep issues on their website.

Did you know women’s hormone cycles can influence sleep? Here is an article where I delve into this topic in more detail.

BPsych (Hons), MPsych (Clin), PhD (Psych)

Dr Steph Centofanti is a psychologist at Choice Psychology.  Steph treats children, adolescents, and adults who present with a wide variety of mental health needs and issues. She is particularly interested in supporting clients with depression, anxiety, and stress, pain and chronic illness, women’s health, and of course, sleep issues. Her research has been focused on the negative effects of sleep deprivation and on coping and resilience. She is an excellent support if you are dealing with the effects of poor sleep.