Time To Read: 5 minutes
Before we start – a disclaimer and some food for thought:
Why does everyone talk about sleep? I know before I knew the ins and outs it was incredibly frustrating to have a mental health professional simply tell me that ‘not sleeping is bad for you’ or to ‘prioritise sleep’, like yeah, don’t you think I would if I could? I encourage you to go into this with an open mind, knowing that these are tried and tested ways to improve sleep, but also ways that I can personally attest to making a difference. It is often easier to say, “I can’t sleep” and complain about it than prioritise ourselves, however, we are the only ones that suffer by doing this.
A lot of mental health advice and tips around sleep and exercise can feel condescending, and I truly believe this is because we don’t know what it looks like to put ourselves first and value our health above all else. We try to go and go and go and wish things were easier, all while not giving ourselves the best chance we can. So let’s give you the best chance of having a good night’s sleep.
Okay, moving on to the content
Why is sleep important, and how it affects mental health
Sleep is incredibly important for the body and brain. Not only does it help to restore energy levels, but it is also essential for proper cognitive functioning, physical health, and emotional well-being.
What does not sleeping actually do to you? Studies show that inadequate sleep can lead to side effects such as decreased alertness, slower reaction times, and difficulty concentrating. It can also lead to increased stress levels, a weakened immune system, cognitive impairment and even weight gain.
Getting enough sleep is essential for the body and brain to stay healthy, energized, and functioning at its peak performance. If you follow my social media content – you will know how detrimental chronic stress and cortisol can be to our health, sleep helps negate this. So yes, sleep can reduce stress and it’s a great place to start.
How to overcome trouble sleeping – 6 tips for better sleep
It can be hard to get a good night’s sleep when you have to wake up at an ungodly hour every morning, have kids or have stressors on your mind. Despite all this, there are several things you can do to help improve the quality of your shuteye. Here are some tips on how to sleep like a pro and reap the rewards of your sound slumber.
My favourite and possibly the easiest of them all to implement. First, we must understand Melatonin and Circadian Rhythms. Melatonin is the hormone that regulates sleep. It is produced in the pineal gland and it alerts the body that it is time to sleep when it is dark, and to wake up when it is light. Melatonin helps regulate circadian rhythms – our bodies’ natural clock. Capiche?
Light is important for sleep because it helps set your body clock. While artificial lights can be purchased and used (see this guide) the best form of light therapy is free – the sun.
Getting morning sun can help in a multitude of ways
- It tells the pituitary gland ‘hey it’s time to wake up’, this means the brain stops creating melatonin and begins to create serotonin and cortisol instead (this amount and timing of cortisol is healthy and needed)
- This serotonin and cortisol released in the morning help your brain to create more melatonin at night when needed. So yes, your morning sun (or lack of) directly affects that night’s sleep hormones
The general guidelines are
- Your eyes need to see the sun – no sunglasses allowed. The eye is the transmitter of this information to the brain.
- Direct sunlight, not through glass (prescription glasses are okay, just not sunglasses). Viewing the sun through glass significantly weakens the LUX your eyes can receive
- Within an hour of waking. If it is bright out and early in the morning, 5-10 minutes can be enough. The more overcast it is, or the later in the day, the longer we need to do it. Up to an hour is good
- Ideally before 9am, 10am at the latest – the earlier the better
- It does still work if there are clouds, you just have to stay out a bit longer
- Best done regularly – your body thrives off routine
- Bonus – it helps with mood enhancement as well
- Limit Blue light during the night
While we are on the topic of light, let us talk about blue light (the light emitted from electronic devices). Now we know the importance of the light that comes into our eyeballs, it’s time to tell you that blue light actively disrupts the brain’s production and release of melatonin after 8pm. Unfortunately, the brain did not develop at a time there were electronics, so if there was light, there was a need to be awake. Our brain is trying its best to do what we need it to, and when we expose it to light at bedtime, it thinks we still need to be awake. Stop using electronics of any kind at least 30-minutes before bed, preferably after 8pm in general.
- Exercise (stay with me)
I know, I know. This is one of those condescending ones. It has been shown that regular exercise during the day can improve the quality, length and consistency of sleep by reducing stress and cortisol levels, as well as reducing sympathetic activity which in turn promotes better sleep. While science suggests moderate movement to get your heart rate up, something is better than nothing. Walking and stretching are great ways to start movement that is not likely to feel too overwhelming. Thirty minutes is recommended, but 5 is better than zero.
Help your brain out as much as possible by having a set sleep and wake time. This allows the brain to be able to consistently create and secrete the necessary hormones without getting confused
The body and brain like it cold, 18C/65F to be precise. Turn on that fan or open that window for better quality sleep
- External help
If you struggle with the mental aspect of sleep and find your mind is hard to quiet, there is extra help available. Many sleep and meditation apps on the market have guided meditations made to help with getting to sleep. While I can’t speak to other apps, our resilience app has inbuilt sleep sounds, meditations and guided breathing to help you get to sleep and stay asleep. It is set and forget, meaning you put it on and it will stop playing after you have fallen asleep. Simply close out of the app when you wake in the morning. Sleep sounds such as rain, storms or wind help to block out distracting sounds that may keep the brain alert, it also helps to focus attention away from the worries of the day. Our guided sleep meditations take you through body scans and muscle relaxation, joining the mind and body in harmony for a peaceful sleep.
All of these things are achievable, you just have to prioritise yourself. As with any new routine or habit, the brain does experience discomfort at first. However, the more your practice, the easier it becomes.