Strategies to help you get a good night’s sleep
There are a hundred different ways we try to fall asleep – including counting to 100 – but those restless nights are serious and if ignored can have take a major physical and emotional toll on a person’s well-being.
“We live in a society that emphasizes efficiency, and in order to be efficient, we have to sacrifice something, which often ends up being sleep,” says Dr. Jacqueline Sze, Psychiatrist at The Scarborough Hospital. “However, we must put greater emphasis on the importance of sleep for our physical and mental health.”
She adds that generally people with existing mental health issues such as depression or anxiety are more likely to suffer from sleep disorders, but everyone experiences stressful periods, which can affect the quality of our sleep. Whether you have a problem with falling asleep, staying asleep or interrupted sleep, the lack of rest can be detrimental to our overall health.
Short-term effects include irritability, difficulty paying attention, headaches, pain and nausea, while long-term, it can increase the risk of developing a mental health issue and even lead to mortality.
Some strategies suggested by Dr. Sze to improve sleep include:
• Rule out any medical problems such as sleep apnea, Restless Leg Syndrome, bladder issues and other physical conditions that can cause sleep deprivation.
• Rule out environmental issues that could be affecting the quality of your sleep such as noise or too much light. Make sure your bedroom is quiet and comfortable, and use your bed for sleep and sex only.
• Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on the weekends. It’s understandable that life will interfere at times with your sleeping patterns, but trying to maintain a schedule will help your overall quality of sleep.
• If you can’t fall asleep, get up and read a relaxing book, knit or clean – something that doesn’t activate your brain. Watching television and spending time on the computer are not helpful sleep hygiene techniques.
• Develop a bedtime ritual. Humans are creatures of habit, so taking a hot bath or drinking an herbal tea every night before bed can train your body and brain to prepare for sleep.
• Stay away from caffeine, alcohol or nicotine about four hours before bedtime. You may find these can help you fall asleep, but they actually affect the quality of sleep, so chances are you won’t feel rested the next day.
• Do not overuse medication to help you sleep. Medication can become ineffective after two to four weeks of consistent use and can stop working. It’s better to develop good sleeping habits that will train your body to sleep well naturally for the long-term. Medications can also make you feel drowsy and tired the next day.
• It may be necessary to make changes to your lifestyle as certain activities such as staying up all night and sleeping during the day (unless you are a shift-worker) can lead to erratic sleep patterns.
• Keep a sleep diary and chart when you go to bed, when you wake up in the morning, the number of times you wake up during the night, any naps and other patterns you experience. This can be valuable information if and when you enlist the support of a medical professional.
It’s important to remember there are no set hours for getting a good night’s sleep. Everyone is different, and some people may need more or less sleep than others to feel rested.
Dr. Sze adds that a consistent battle with getting a good night’s sleep may be an early sign of a mental health issue such as depression. Also, people who suffer from previous sleep disorders are more likely to experience them in the future. So it’s a good idea to develop good sleep hygiene and discuss any concerns with your doctor.