Dr. Dana Seymour
10 Sleep Habits From a Psychologist to Improve Your Mental Health
by Dr. Dana Seymour, C. Psych
Sleep is a nessacity as it restores the mind and body. Sleep helps to keep the medicine wheel balanced for your mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health.
Sleep disturbances and mental health symptoms often go hand in hand. When you are experiencing stress, anxiety, depression, or trauma sleep is often impacted. And when you don't get enough sleep, your mental health symptoms are often worse the next day. Leaving you feeling exhausted and hopeless about things improving.
Sleep can improve when you are intentional about your sleep habits. Here are 10 habits that will help to improve your sleep.
01. Stick to a Sleep Schedule
As much as possible stick to the same sleep schedule every day. It is very tempting to sleep in on the weekends, but going off schedule for even these two days can bugger up your sleep during the week.
02. Greet the Sun
Sleep habits are not just about focusing on what you are doing at night, but during the day too. You can use light at different parts of the day to help regulate your sleep.
Starting your day with morning light not only helps you wake up but also helps you fall asleep later in the the day by setting into motion your internal sleep timer. You will want to aim to view sunlight within the first 30-60 minutes after waking for approximately 5-10 minutes when the sun is shining and 30 minutes on rainy days.
Exercise is a great habit that not only helps improve your mental health, but also helps improve the quality of your sleep. Try to get your exercise session done in the morning or afternoon as exercising too close to bedtime can actually make it harder to fall asleep. You can habit stack by exercising outdoors and getting in your morning light at the same time.
A hot cup of Timmies or a cold brew from Starbucks, may be your bevy of choice in the morning, as caffeine has been shown to increase alertness and energy. As yummy as these energizing drinks can be, having caffeine too late in the day can wreak havoc on your biological clock and disrupt your sleep. Have your tasty caffeinated beverages 8 -10 hours before you plan to catch your zzz's.
05. Time to Relax
Relaxing is a great habit for both your mental health and your sleep. Your days may be packed with caring for kiddos, working, going to school, taking care of your household, the list can be endless of what you need to do in the day. But being intentional about your downtime in the evening can help you fall asleep. Whether it's reading a book (like a real book, not on your tablet), journaling, having a hot shower or bath, or a hot cup of caffeine-free tea, try incorporating more relaxing activities into your evening to unwind and decompress.
Electronic devices can be helpful and entertaining throughout the day, but using them before bed can keep your mind running in overdrive at night. Putting your phone and tablets away an hour before bed can help you calm down and make it easier to fall asleep.
07. Reduce Light in the Evening
As I've mentioned previously, light is a great way to help regulate your sleep. You can increase light in the morning to help you wake up and reduce light in the evening to help you fall asleep. You can do this by avoiding bright artificial overhead lights in your home and create a soothing ambience with table top lamps.
08. Create a Calming Sleeping Space
Creating a calming sleeping space will help you to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. Get some comfy pillows and cozy blankets that you like to snuggle into. As tempting as it may be to resort to your bed for watching tv or hanging out, it can make it harder to fall asleep. You want your mind and body to associate the bed with sleeping.
Light again is going to be important. Try to make your bedroom as dark as possible with blinds or shades. If that's still not dark enough, you can try an eye mask. Even the slightest light can wake you up and make it difficult to fall back to sleep.
Keep the temperature in your room on the cooler side. Your body's temperature needs to drop to fall asleep. Keeping the room cool will help you get a good night's sleep.
Lastly, the slightest noise can bring you out of your slumber. Try reducing external noises with a white noise machine, an app that plays sounds from nature, or a fan. A soothing noise constantly running in the background will help you catch your zzz's.
09. Practice Gratitude
A daily gratitude practice is not only a great habit for your mental health but also for your sleep. Reviewing things you are grateful for before bed, can help improve your sleep.
10. Night Lights
You may not fully sleep through the night, in fact it's normal to occasionally wake up to get comfortable or to use the bathroom. If you do find yourself having to get out of bed try to minimize your exposure to light. The light from your phone is bright enough to disrupt your sleep cycle making it hard for you to go back to sleep. Alternatively, night lights can be a good option to guide you to the bathroom so you don’t stub your toes and allow you to get back to sleep quickly.
Approaching your sleep with some intentional habits will help you catch more zzz's and improve your stress, anxiety, depression, and healing from trauma. Starting new habits can feel overwhelming, making small gradual changes will help it feel more manageable.
If your sleep is impacted by stress, anxiety, depression, or trauma a therapist can help address this in therapy and help you feel balanced, rooted, and grounded again.
Dr. Dana Seymour, C. Psych.
I am a psychologist that offers online therapy throughout Ontario that focuses on stress, anxiety, depression, and trauma for Indigenous people.
If you are struggling with sleep due to your mental health and looking for a therapist, please contact me here.