Sleep Well: 10 Sleep Tips for Improved Mental Health

by IVPC Staff

Understanding the importance of sleep is crucial for maintaining a balanced lifestyle. Sleep hygiene, which involves practices and habits that are conducive to sleeping well on a regular basis, is a key component of this. It’s not just about the quantity of sleep but also the sleep quality. Achieving a good night’s rest is essential for enhancing both physical and mental health, impacting everything from mood to immune function.

Tips for a Better Night’s Sleep

Catching those precious Zzz’s isn’t just about feeling well-rested the next day. Sleep is a biological necessity, as crucial to our health as a balanced diet and regular exercise. During sleep, our brains and bodies go through a complex series of stages, each with vital physiological functions. From memory consolidation to cellular repair, sufficient sleep strengthens our physical and mental well-being. But with busy schedules and the constant glow of devices, a good night’s sleep can feel elusive. To help you unlock the door to dreamland, we’ve compiled some helpful tips to improve your sleep hygiene and help you wake up feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day.

Sleep Basics

The Sleep Stages

Our sleep isn’t a uniform state; we cycle between NREM and REM stages throughout the night, typically lasting 90 minutes each. Adults need 4-6 cycles per night (around 7-8 hours) for optimal health. Compared to adults, children spend a greater portion of their sleep time in REM sleep, which is crucial for brain development and memory consolidation. As children mature, their sleep cycles lengthen and the proportion of REM sleep decreases, approaching adult sleep patterns.

Non-REM (NREM) Sleep: This makes up 75% of sleep and has 3 stages:

Stage 1: Lightest sleep, easily awakened. Brain waves slow slightly.

Stage 2: Deeper sleep, muscle activity decreases, heart rate and breathing slow.

Stage 3 (Deep Sleep): Restorative stage, brain waves slow significantly, body temperature drops, muscles relax, and tissue repair occurs.

Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep: Makes up 25% of sleep, characterized by:

  • Rapid eye movements
  • Increased brain activity (close to waking)
  • Muscle paralysis (except for eyes)
  • Dreaming typically occurs
  • Thought to be crucial for memory consolidation, emotional processing and learning

Each stage offers distinct benefits: NREM for physical restoration, REM for mental processes.

The Impact of Sleep

  • Sleep directly impacts physical and mental health.
  • Insufficient sleep weakens the immune system, hinders cognitive function (memory, learning), and increases the risk of chronic diseases.
  • Conversely, good sleep strengthens the immune system, improves mood, boosts cognitive function, and regulates hormones.

Remember: This is just a glimpse into the science of sleep. Researchers are continuously learning more about its complexities and its profound impact on our well-being.

Why it is important

The CDC has gone so far as to classify insomnia as a health epidemic. According to the National Sleep Foundation, lack of sleep costs the U.S. 66 billion dollars a year in healthcare and loss of productivity expenses. 

Just like a car needs fuel to run smoothly, our bodies and minds rely on sleep to function optimally. When we consistently fall short on sleep, we experience a cascade of negative effects, including poor sleep which can significantly impact our physical and mental well-being, leading to an increased risk of obesity, heart disease, and impaired exercise performance.

  • Diminished Cognitive Function: Sleep deprivation impairs our ability to think clearly, concentrate, and learn. You might find it harder to make decisions, solve problems, and be creative.
  • Mood Swings and Irritability: Lack of sleep can disrupt emotional regulation, leading to increased irritability, frustration, and mood swings. You might find yourself feeling more impatient and short-tempered.
  • Weakened Immune System: Sleep plays a vital role in supporting the immune system. When sleep deprived, our bodies produce fewer infection-fighting cells, making us more susceptible to getting sick and taking longer to recover from illness.
  • Increased Risk of Chronic Diseases: Chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to an increased risk of developing health problems like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and obesity.
  • Safety Concerns: Drowsiness can significantly impair our driving ability and reaction time. Sleep deprivation is a major risk factor for accidents and injuries.

By understanding the significant downsides of sleep deprivation, we can appreciate the importance of prioritizing healthy sleep habits.

Tips for Better Sleep

Following the tips listed below can set you on a path to a good night’s sleep and better mental and physical health.

Sleep Schedule:

  • Consistency is key: Stick to a sleep schedule, including wake-up time, even on weekends. This regulates your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle (circadian rhythm), reinforcing the body’s sleep-wake cycle and helping you fall asleep faster and wake up feeling more refreshed.
  • Ditch the snooze button: It disrupts your sleep cycle and makes you groggier. Set your alarm for the time you actually need to get up.

Bedroom Bliss:

  • Invest in comfort: A supportive mattress and pillows suited to your sleeping style (back, side, stomach) are crucial. Consider memory foam or adjustable pillows for added comfort.
  • Lighten up: Darkness promotes sleep. Invest in blackout curtains or an eye mask.
  • Calm the noise: Earplugs or a white noise machine can block out disruptive sounds. Aim for a cool, quiet, and dark environment.
  • Sanctuary status: Reserve your bed for sleep and intimacy only. Avoid working, watching TV, or using electronic devices in bed to strengthen the sleep association.

Pre-sleep Power Down:

  • Relaxation routine: Develop a calming pre-sleep ritual like reading, taking a warm bath, or light stretching.
  • Dim the lights: Avoid bright screens (phones, laptops, TVs) for at least an hour before bed. The blue light emitted by these devices suppresses melatonin, a sleep hormone.

Diet and Exercise:

  • Mind your stimulants: Limit caffeine intake, especially in the afternoon and evening. Avoid excessive alcohol close to bedtime, as it disrupts sleep later in the night.
  • Move your body: Regular exercise improves sleep quality. However, avoid strenuous workouts too close to bedtime, as they can be stimulating.

Sleepless Strategies:

  • Don’t force it: If you can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed and do a relaxing activity in dim light until you feel tired.
  • Track your sleep: Consider using a sleep tracker app to monitor your sleep patterns and identify potential disruptors. Read about some of the best rated sleep tracking apps here.

Seeking Help:

  • Sleep study: If sleep problems persist, consult a doctor about a sleep study to rule out underlying sleep disorders like sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome.
  • Therapy: If stress or anxiety are affecting your sleep, consider therapy to address these issues and improve your sleep hygiene. 
  • Consult a healthcare provider: For those struggling with sleep, consulting with a healthcare provider for sleep aids and sleep medicine may be beneficial options. It’s important to treat sleep disorders to maintain overall health and well-being.

Bonus Tip to sleep well:

  • Natural light exposure: Get some natural sunlight in the morning to further regulate your circadian rhythm.

Remember, prioritizing sleep is an investment in your overall health and happiness. So take charge tonight. By creating a sleep-supportive environment, addressing underlying anxieties, and establishing healthy habits, you’ll be well on your way to a good night’s sleep and a healthier, happier you. Sweet dreams!

InnerVoice Psychotherapy & Consultation in Chicago, IL and Skokie, IL can help you with sleep issues, related stressors and other mental health concerns. Please reach out to speak to one of our licensed professionals for extra help.