A strong correlation exists between good sleep and mental health. Adapting our lifestyle to prioritize sleep can lead to lessened anxiety and depression and better focus and performance at work and in school. Fatigue can lead to poor behavioral choices such as devaluing nutrition and exercise. This becomes a cycle where as we make unhealthy choices the more our mental wellness suffers. Our minds and bodies cannot function properly without spending some time re-energizing each night. While there may be societal pressures to work hard, meet social engagements, and care for our families, when we undervalue sleep we are not fully functioning and present in these times. So what can we all do to get a better sleep?
Turn off screens 2 hours before bed time. I know, this can be incredibly difficult, especially with children. If nothing else, put screens on “nighttime mode,” this cuts the blue light screens emit which interrupts our sleep cycle. Try not to use screens in the middle of the night. When it’s hard to sleep it may be tempting to browse on your phone, but the light from the phone as well as content you read can be stimulating and derail your best attempts to get back to sleep. Also try and minimize any lights from electronics in the room (such as alarm clocks or speakers).
Go to bed and wake up at the same time, everyday. Yes, this means weekends. The more we can get our body into a natural rhythm and sleep cycle, the better. “Catching up” on a sleep deficit by oversleeping on weekends just throws this rhythm out of whack.
Determine how many zzzs. We all need a different amount of sleep (if you wake up feeling rested, that’s a good indicator you got enough). Some may need 6 hours, some 9. Other than young kids, sleeping past 10 hours may be a sign of another issue.
Get some exercise. Try to get at least 30 minutes of cardio in per day, even if it’s just a walk with the dog or kids. Exercising outdoors in the morning is especially beneficial for telling our bodies it’s wake-up time and helping us feel good.
Build a nightly routine. For kids, I suggest a warm cup of herbal tea in whatever flavor they like (small amount if you’re worried about nighttime bathroom trips) and a bath before bedtime, often with the lights somewhat dimmed in the bathroom. Then straight to bed, in a bedroom with the lights also already dimmed. An oil diffuser, soothing music, and a white noise machine can do wonders. A story in bed is a great way to communicate and spend special time with kids, hear about their day, and help them drift off into sleep.
Working on getting a good night’s sleep is one of my first priorities with clients; these simple changes in lifestyle can have an incredibly positive impact on our mental and physical health!