Sleeping Well: Sleep Hygiene and Mental Health
October 23, 2023
Hygiene refers to the things we do to maintain our health through cleaning, to prevent the spread of germs and bacteria. So what does it mean to clean up our sleeping habits?
Sleep hygiene describes the things that we do to help us sleep better, and for longer. NHS guidelines show that adults should be getting about 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night, but for teenagers and young people, this is more, about 8-10 hours, because they are still developing.
Further NHS research shows that ‘in 2022, 64.0% of young people aged 17 to 23 years had a problem with sleep 3 or more times over the previous 7 nights’. This can be an issue for many young people because sleep is a vital period of rest during a time when they go through a huge amount of physical, mental and emotional growth. Our brains use sleep to process new information we come across during the day so that we can learn and create new memories. Not getting good sleep during this important time can have a significant impact on energy levels, mood and concentration and will further impact things like school or work.
Why we don’t sleep well
It’s normal for us all at different points in our lives to have difficulty sleeping, but this can become persistent, happening over long periods of time or frequently. You’ll see this called either short-term or long-term insomnia.
Lots of things can cause insomnia. Events happening in our lives, like worries about school, might be causing us to overthink. Our environment, too, will play its part. This will be whether the room is too light, whether it’s too noisy, or if there’s background noise from a TV or tablet. Physical habits like eating too late, having caffeine and/or sugar (i.e. tea or coffee, energy drinks or sugary drinks) before bed, or exercising late at night will also affect our ability to get to sleep.
Using laptops, phones or social media before bed will also have a big effect on our sleep. Our article on Social Media and Mental Health explores this topic in detail, explaining that ‘around 60% of young adults are looking at their phones before they go to sleep and those who do so get on average an hour less sleep than those who do not use their phones at night’. This is because social media and phone use in general can keep us connected to our phones and therefore more awake and aware of notifications, or seeking out new information. Depending on what we’re looking at, too, social media can make us more stressed and worried, as well as overstimulating our senses (i.e. too loud and colourful, or feeling of information overload).
Sleep hygiene, if we make it part of a daily routine like mindfulness, can have a great benefit to our mental health by setting up positive routines that make us more relaxed and able to get to sleep quicker.
-Put away your phone and avoid social media at least an hour before going to bed
-Journal or write out your thoughts in the evening
-Make sure your bedroom is dark, and your bed and pillows are comfortable
-Read before bed
-If you can’t sleep or wake up often, rather than waiting or trying to get back to sleep, do something relaxing (such as reading) until you’re tired again.
-Stick to a routine of going to bed and waking up at regular times.
Our experience of our mental health is unique to us, and how we approach our sleep routine will also be unique. What is relaxing for one person might not be for another, so it’s important to try and find what works for you.
If anxious thoughts are keeping you awake regularly, find support by booking a free initial consultation with one of our qualified mental health professionals.