Why Does Sleep Matter?
Sleep is essential for maintaining normal bodily function, both physically and mentally, as well as emotionally. Once sleep disturbances begin to set in, they can very quickly spiral into a vicious cycle that feeds the depression that’s causing them.
Sleep disturbances can happen due to:
- anxiety about your studies, relationships, or health
- medication side effects
- not getting enough exercise during the day
- over- or under-eating
- working too late in the evenings
It can take just one night of disrupted sleep, which causes you to sleep in late or nap during the following day, and in turn makes it harder to fall asleep the following night as well. Suddenly, you start to feel exhausted, and your body is trying to sleep at all the wrong times of day, making it extremely difficult to meet your commitments throughout the week.
This refers to the use of good routines, rituals and practices to help regain and maintain a good sleep pattern.
The information here will help you plan and make small, gradual changes to work towards better sleep hygiene.
Keep a sleep diary
The first step is to keep a sleep diary for a week or two, so that you have a realistic snapshot of your current sleep habits.
Then consider what you have learnt from keeping your sleep diary. Roughly how many hours of sleep are you averaging per night? What quality is your sleep/how well rested do you feel? Have you noticed any patterns for when sleep is better or worse?
It is also possible to buy sleep monitors, or download an app to your phone that connects with a suitable smartwatch, which can also monitor the general parameters of sleep.
Things to Avoid
It is also important to note things you do that might prevent you from sleeping well. For example, such things might include:
- Using smartphones or tablet computers late at night, or in bed before going to sleep
- Working right up to the last minute before going to bed
- If sleep is disturbed, lying awake in bed running through thoughts
- Drinking too much, and particularly before going to bed
- Some drugs (prescribed and not prescribed) might disturb sleep (always speak with your GP if you are not sure)
- Taking a nap during the day
- Not getting enough exercise or fresh air during the day
- Not getting enough relaxation in, especially just before bed
- Not eating well during the day, or eating too soon before going to bed
My new sleep routine
Continue to use your diary to monitor your sleep patterns, making adjustments as you go along that best suit your own needs and living patterns. The aim here is to develop a good approach to sleep: to develop a good routine where you actively prepare for sleep each night. Once you have a better idea of your quality of sleep, and where problems may exist, consider how you might be able to make changes to achieve your goal.
Taking active steps for better sleep
Write down your intentions for how to improve your sleep habits. This can help keep a clear record of what you intend to do (so you don’t have to remember it), and you can also use it to review how things are going – what is working and what is not working:
I will get up by ____8am____ every day, including weekends. I will aim to go to sleep by____12pm____ but only if I am sleepy by then.
One hour before bed I will____switch off my laptop, close the curtains/put on my lamp, have a bowl of cereal or a milky drink and have a chat with my housemates, read a novel or listen to my relaxation CD for 20 minutes____
I will only go to bed when I am feeling sleepy.
If I am having trouble getting to sleep I will ____get up and turn on the lamp, write down any thoughts that are bothering me so that I can sort them out in the morning, carry on reading my novel until I am sleepy again____
Things I need to change/do to give me the best chance of sticking to this plan:
____Put my alarm clock on the other side of the room, and ask Josh to bang on my door if I’m not up by 8.15____
____Get up and get dressed straight away, and plan an activity to get up for every day____
____Buy some ear plugs so I don’t worry about being disturbed if my housemates come in late____
Don’t set yourself overly rigid expectations – the aim is to make sure you generally give yourself the best chance of a decent amount and/or quality of rest. It won’t always go to plan, but that is not the end of the world. Work on other aspects of your daily routine, like exercise and relaxation strategies, to support the changes you are trying to make in your sleep habits. Use the diary to check your progress after a while.