There’s a close relationship between sleep and mood. You may have noticed that, following a sleepless night, you feel irritable, down, and anxious. For those with a pattern of poor sleep quality, the effects are compounded. Researchers at University of Pennsylvania have found that when study participants were limited to 4.5 hours of sleep per night for one week, they experienced higher levels of stress, anger, sadness, and cognitive problems.
Poor sleep has also been associated with migraines, decreased immune functioning, and higher injury rates. It’s also linked to a range of physical conditions, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
If you’re feeling inspired to make changes to improve your sleep, we suggest starting with the following steps:
- Wind down: Life can be chaotic. It’s easy to fall into the habit of responding to work emails or cleaning the house right before bed. However, it’s important to take time to slow down, so you can prepare your mind and body for sleep. Take a bath, read, or engage in another activity that helps you feel grounded and calm.
- Establish a sleep schedule: Aim to go to bed and get up at the same time every day – including on weekends. Yes, sleeping in can feel amazing, but being consistent about your sleep will reinforce your body’s sleep-wake cycles.
- Don’t force yourself to sleep: If you don’t fall asleep within 20 minutes, leave your bedroom, and do something soothing. Try not to watch television or use your phone since the blue light can suppress the secretion of melatonin, and make sleep even more elusive for you.
- Monitor your substance use: While alcohol may initially help you doze off, it can disrupt sleep later in the night. Caffeine and nicotine can also be problematic. They’re stimulants, and so their effects can negatively affect your ability to sleep.
- Be mindful of your portion sizes: If you eat a large meal close to bedtime, your body may struggle to digest the food, which will make it difficult for you to get into deeper phases of sleep. It’s also prudent to skip foods that are fatty, spicy, acidic, and have a lot of fiber unless it’s at least a couple of hours before bedtime.
- Limit napping: It’s OK to take a brief afternoon nap, and in some cultures, it’s even encouraged. However, if your naps are more than an hour long, or take place later in the afternoon, you may want to reconsider this habit.
- Set the tone: The best environment for sleep is a cool, dark, quiet place. Take steps to make your bedroom more suitable, which may mean buying new blinds, a white noise machine, or ear plugs. Research has also shown that using certain scents in your room – notably, lavender and vanilla – can promote sleep.
- Get moving: Regular physical activity can increase your sleep quality. However, avoid exercising within two hours of bedtime, or it may have the opposite effect, and leave you feeling wide awake when you should be dreaming.
- Manage you worries: If distressing thoughts or worries are keeping you up at night, try journaling or meditating at bedtime as a method of quieting your mind. You tried them, and it’s not working? Consider speaking with a professional to address your negative thinking patterns.
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