Updated: Nov 10
By: Kassie Love, MFT, MPH
When you think of taking care of your mental health, chances are that images of therapy sessions, meditation, and self-care spa days fill your thoughts. Often less discussed is how sleep is a pillar of good mental health. We all know that sleep makes our body feel better. But science consistently shows that sleep also makes our brain and mental health better, as well.
Lack of adequate sleep, defined as a minimum of 7 hours by the CDC, not only affects mental health in adults. Children and teens who do not get the recommended number of hours of sleep, also have increased rates of mental, behavioral, and developmental disorders. Children and teens are not the only ones more likely to have behavioral issues, leading to more outbursts, temper tantrums, and grumpy moods. According to Harvard Health studies, sleep deprivation is associated with irritability and mood symptoms in adults.
So, now that we know that sleep is a cornerstone for better mental health, there remains the obvious question of what to do about getting more of it. After all, we have jobs, families, and stress which can lead to a lack of sleep in our lives. For many of us, existing mental health struggles like depression, anxiety, or alcohol and drug use, may affect the amount of sleep we are getting.
That being said, there may be no quick fix in suddenly moving from sleep-deprived to well-rested every night of the week. Though, there are some practical changes you can start making today to help you get more sleep, and improve your overall mood. Let’s look at these 5 simple tips that can help make those luxurious ideas of longer nights cozied between the sheets a reality.
Tip #1 - Do the math.
This sounds simple, in theory. But, surprisingly, many people give little thought to what time they should aim for when figuring out when their head should be on the pillow at night. For instance, if you have to be up at 7 am every morning, you would need to be asleep by 11 pm, to meet the recommended minimum amount of sleep for adults. If you’ve ever tried the strategy of heading towards your bed around the minimum hour mark, you already know how this scenario plays out…
You walk into your bedroom at 11 pm, envisioning that within a couple of minutes, you will be tucked tightly between the sheets. Before you know it, you are brushing your teeth, spending a few minutes chatting with your partner, or returning that one last text…Before you realize it, the clock flashes to 11:33 pm. Now, you’re going into tomorrow in sleep-deprivation mode, again.
Here’s how to fix it and get the math right:
Don’t time the clock too closely. This is one of the most common mistakes in not getting enough sleep. Now that you realize there are more than 60 seconds between walking in your bedroom and your head hitting the pillow, head in that direction sooner. Think of how much time you need for your bedtime routines, like brushing your teeth, ensuring your devices are charging, or getting in a few quick minutes with your partner. For many, an extra 30 minutes to one hour is enough time to complete their nighttime routines and ensure they give themselves at least the recommended time for sleep. Now that you know this, focus on getting in your bedroom earlier each night.
Tip #2 -Set yourself up for success.
Are you setting the alarm earlier each morning to tie up loose ends, pack your lunch for the day, or find your favorite coffee cup? Imagine waking up in the morning, strolling into the kitchen, and glancing at your bag and keys ready to go. Then, you make your way over to your favorite cup on the counter, before opening the fridge to a healthy, freshly pre-packed lunch.
Taking a few minutes to prepare the evening before you tuck in can allow you to set the alarm a bit later each morning. Even if preparing for the next day lets you set the alarm 15 minutes later, that’s a move towards possibly improving your mental health. Think about it this way: getting to your room 15 minutes early each night and sleeping 15 minutes more in the morning, gives you an additional half hour of sleep. For many people, that additional half hour of sleep can be the difference between an irritable mood with coworkers or our kids, and being able to put our best foot forward that day.
Further, for the many millions of Americans who already struggle with conditions like depression or anxiety, sleep is an important part of feeling better. Every few minutes of extra sleep counts. Make a list of the tasks you want to have ready each morning to make it easy to start your day. Then, find simple ways to accomplish as many of these to-do’s before going to bed. The key is to ensure that finishing these tasks doesn’t result in a later bedtime than intended. Since that’s not helpful to your overall goal of more sleep. Get creative in how you can be repaired for your morning and the following day. For instance, while dinner is cooking, take a few minutes to pack your lunch and find your coffee mug. Designate a spot each day where you keep your bag and keys. That way, those items are always ready for the next morning.
Tip #3 - What's that your sipping on?
If you feel exhausted in the morning, it may help to examine your beverage choices. Many people notice the effects of caffeine if consumed too close to bedtime. Caffeine too close to bedtime may leave you restless, tossing and turning, and wasting your precious hours of much-neeI birthday are you not going I don't knowded slumber. However, many people don’t realize that even caffeine throughout the day can affect the ability to drift off to la-la-land. It’s normal for the body and mind to take a few minutes to drift off to sleep. But, if you find falling asleep to take more than 15 to 20 minutes, consider your caffeine consumption. That late-morning coffee or evening soda may be giving you a temporary pickup, but cutting in on your sleep. Picking a time of day to cut off caffeine consumption can help. For instance, many people decide to stop drinking caffeinated beverages around 2 pm. Consider moving that back even earlier, say noon, if you notice you’re even more sensitive to caffeine.
Lastly, look at your alcohol consumption. While alcohol may help many people fall asleep faster, it produces poorer quality sleep. As alcohol is metabolized while we sleep, it often leads to frequent nighttime wakings. This results in a poorer overall quality of sleep. Perhaps limiting alcohol consumption to only certain days of the week or month could help improve your sleep.
Tip #4 - Set up a bedtime routine.
A bedtime routine may just be the thing you need to improve both the quality and quantity of your sleep. Bedtime routines can consist of a variety of relaxing and mundane activities that work to let your mind and body know it’s time to wind down for the day. Such routines often consist of warm baths or showers, choosing clothes for the next day, and even sipping a cup of tea or water. When repeated over again each evening, these routines let your busy mind relax and signal it’s time for sleep. The routine will also help you be more prepared for the next day if organizing items or clothing is part of that routine. As we discussed above, this will work in your favor by allowing you to set the alarm a few minutes later.
Tip #5 - Talk with a therapist.
You may not have realized that many therapists work with clients to improve a variety of lifestyle factors. Therapists are often already skilled in working with clients who may have sleep disorders, such as insomnia. Therapists recognize the importance of sleep for both good physical and mental health. A therapist informed on sleep modifications and techniques can help you set up a routine for more sleep while addressing any factors that may be interfering with a good night’s rest.
Kassie Love is a psychotherapist specializing in more intensive mood and emotional regulation needs, as well as unusual thoughts and experiences. Visit here to learn more and see how you can improve your mental well-being.