There's a reason that people often feel mentally stronger after a good night's sleep. Our bodies and brains need it—but despite what many people might think, you can't just "power through" and catch up on things later. Sleep loss is cumilative, and over time can have a direct link to depression, anxiety, physical health and mood.
The World Health Organization views sleep loss as an epidemic in industrialized nations. An abundance of screen time, distractions in every direction, working from home—they all contribute to altering our natural sleep cycles and make it difficult to wind down at night. A full two-thirds of adults fail to achieve a sufficient amount of nightly sleep, which has knock-on affects in all aspects of our lives and the lives of those around us.
Around 75% of depressed people show symptoms of insomnia, compared with 10% to 18% of adults in the general population (U.S.). Sleep issues are particularly common in patients with anxiety, depression and ADHD. While traditional thinking says that sleep problems are a symptom of poor mental health, growing evidence suggests that poor sleep may induce or exacerbate issues. It essentially becomes a feedback loop where poor sleep increases mental health issues, which contributes to poor sleep, which affects mental health, and so on. So it's thought that by working to improve sleep, you can also improve mental health.
So what are we supposed to do when the world around us is constantly fighting for our attention?
There is no silver bullet when it comes to getting better sleep. Rather, it's often a series of tricks and tools, incrimental approaches that help bring us back into a more consistent pattern. Of course, there will always be days in which we struggle, but by taking some simple actions we can help fight against poor sleep. Collectively, this is known as Sleep Hygiene.
- Action #1 - Less screen time before bed: We've all heard this before, that the mindless scrolling of social media or streaming television makes it hard to sleep. It's true, but don't beat yourself up about it. It's all designed to capture your attention. In our experience, if you set time aside to enjoy screens with a "screen curfew" that you stick to, you'll have some luck in lessening the impact. Basically, try to turn screens off at least an hour before bed—and don't scroll once you get under the covers.
- Action #2 - Exercise: Part of the reason many people can't sleep is becase they haven't expended the energy in their bodies. A good workout, especially one that raises your heart rate for at least 20 minutes, can help when it comes time to going to sleep. Not a workout kind of person? No problem. Even a walk outdoors for 20 minutes can be beneficial.
- Action #3 - Reading: Reading is very similar to meditation in that it requires you to give your focus over to something other than your day to day. It's very difficult to think about work while you're also reading (of course, that doesn't mean you won't get distracted). It's a helpful tool that contributes to a calming of your mind as you wind down at night.
- Action #4 - Consistent schedule: research shows that by keeping a routine in which you go to bed at the same time every night, you'll increase your chances of a good sleep. That doesn't mean you need to go to sleep at 8pm, just that whatever time you're doing it, keep it the same night after night.
- Action #5 - Less food and drink before bed: While some people feel that wine or a snack before bed might help, it actually constibutes to poor sleep. Alcohol dehydrates you and can keep you up needing the bathroom—and while you may be able to sleep initially, the depth of the sleep isn't nearly as deep as recommended by sleep doctors. You can still enjoy a drink, of course. Just try to wrap it up an hour or two before bedtime. Same goes with food.
- Action #6 - Sleep stories (A.K.A. WikiSleep): If you're not in the mood for a deep meditation but would like something to listen to as you fall asleep, WikiSleep is the perfect tool. It helps pull your focus away from repetitive thoughts and gently delivers soothing sleep content, piquing your interest while being calm enough that you can slip away to dreamland.
Building better sleep habits takes time, but with the right intention and consistency, you'll be able to build you sleep muscles just like you build strength at the gym.