Your sleep is directly linked to your mental wellness. While it often seems there are more important things to do than sleep, sleeping well and for the right amount of time is an essential component of good mental health. Unfortunately, many of us don’t sleep as well as we should.
When you don’t sleep well, your mind suffers. According to Harvard Health Publishing, poor sleep impairs your thinking and emotional regulation, increases your risk of developing a mental illness, and worsens symptoms of existing psychiatric disorders. If you’re not sleeping well, there are things you can do to improve the quality and quantity of your sleep.
Keep a Regular Bedtime
Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day regulates your circadian rhythms. This effectively trains your body to feel tired around the same time each night so you can fall asleep more easily and feel more alert during the day.
Schedule Enough Time for Sleep
Sleep needs vary from person to person, but the vast majority of adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night to be fully rested. As The New York Times reports, sleeping for fewer than seven hours per night is associated with depression and a range of physical health conditions. Set aside enough time for sleep each night, accounting for the time it takes to get ready for bed and fall asleep.
Replace Aging Mattresses
A new mattress may be expensive, but it’s an investment in your mental health. Make the most of your money by researching mattresses and reading reviews to find the best mattress to suit your needs. Different bodies need different mattresses; a person with back pain, for instance, does best with a certain style of mattress, a hot sleeper another, and a stomach or side sleeper prefers yet another kind of mattress. Keep your sleep style in mind as you shop.
Keep Bedrooms Dark and Cool
Adults sleep best in bedrooms kept between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit. If your thermostat is set higher than this, adjust its settings so indoor temperatures drop at night.
Bedrooms should also be dark to promote restful sleep. Artificial light inhibits your body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleepiness. Use blackout curtains to block light pollution and keep artificial lights (including night lights and alarm clocks) out of the bedroom. If you need an alarm to wake up, place fabric over the device to block light.
Get Active and Get Outdoors
Exercise and exposure to natural light both help regulate the body’s sleep-wake cycle. Maintaining an active lifestyle that includes plenty of outdoor activities like hiking, gardening, and bicycling is an excellent way to improve your health and sleep.
Watch Your Vices
Caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol all have the power to disrupt sleep. If you drink too much caffeine, you might feel too alert to fall asleep or sleep lightly. Nicotine, another stimulant, promotes nighttime wakings and increases your risk of sleep apnea. And while alcohol may help you fall asleep, it reduces REM sleep so you feel less rested when you wake up. Avoid consuming these substances close to bedtime and consider cutting back or quitting completely.
These changes are effective ways to improve your sleep and, in turn, your mental health. However, not all sleep problems — or all mental health issues — can be fixed by changing habits. If you’ve made a change and still struggle to sleep, or you’re sleeping better but your mental health is still suffering, talk to a doctor about your next steps.
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