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How poor sleep affects your mental well-being

March 18, 2024
Alexandra Hopkins

“Did you wake up on the wrong side of the bed?” At some point or another, most of us will have been asked this question, usually at a time when we’ve seemed irritable. Although the side of the bed we sleep on doesn’t really matter, how peacefully we sleep can have a significant impact on our mood.

We all have restless nights now and again. Things like stress, worry and our lifestyle choices can influence our sleep. However, some people struggle with regular sleep issues - one of the most common being insomnia. According to the World Sleep Society, insomnia affects 30-45% of the adult population.  

Some people with insomnia have trouble getting to sleep, while others are able to drop off but wake up frequently during the night or wake up too early and can’t get back to sleep. It’s also possible for someone to experience all of these difficulties at various times. When these symptoms happen over a prolonged period, this is classed as chronic insomnia.

People with insomnia may experience a ‘vicious cycle’. For example, if someone is stressed about work or money, they might find that this impacts their sleep. Although they’re tired, as soon as they lay down, their mind begins whirring so that they can’t drop off. Then, they begin to worry about not getting enough sleep and how this will take its toll the next day. The more anxious they become, the harder it is to sleep.  

Another common sleep problem is, sleep deprivation, where someone doesn’t get enough hours of sleep consistently. Sleep deprivation is different to insomnia in that while someone with insomnia is unable to sleep when they try, sleep deprivation happens when you either don’t give yourself enough time to sleep, or external factors prevent you from sleeping. For example, parents of newborns, caring for others or having a long-term health condition are less likely to get sufficient sleep.  

When we don’t get enough sleep, or good quality sleep, this can have a serious impact on our lives and our physical and mental health. Tiredness and a lack of energy can mean that we’re more easily irritated or upset. We might also struggle to concentrate and find it harder to remember things. Studies show that people with insomnia show more symptoms of anxiety and depression than people without insomnia.

Habits for better sleep

  1. Focus on your sleep hygiene  

Making some changes to your bedroom environment and your sleep habits can help you to get a better night’s rest. Make sure that the temperature of your room isn’t too hot or too cold and that your bed is comfortable. If there’s any light or noise that bothers you, you could try wearing earplugs and a sleep mask.

  1. Set yourself a bedtime

Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on the weekends. Sometimes, people use the weekends to ‘catch up on’ the sleep that they didn’t get during the working week, but it’s worth noting that this won’t necessarily make up for sleep deprivation. You should also avoid sleeping in the daytime if you can, or just stick to a short nap.  

  1. Limit your screen time  

TV, phones and tablets stimulate us and cause our minds to be active, which is the opposite of what we need before trying to sleep. Blue light can also affect our sleep by suppressing the release of melatonin. Make sure that you avoid screens before bed and try reading, doing a puzzle or listening to an audiobook to wind down instead.

  1. Clear your mind  

If there’s something on your mind, it can help to write down your thoughts and feelings before going to bed to empty your mind, so that you’re not lying awake and worrying. You may also want to make a to-do list or a plan of action so that you feel more in control. Keep a notebook by your bed, so if you wake up worrying or suddenly remembering something, you can write it down and (hopefully) go back to sleep.

  1. Wind down before bed

Taking the time to relax before bed helps to prepare our body and mind for sleep. You could try a meditation app, read a book, or some people find that progressive muscle relaxation is a good way to wind down. Tense each part of your body in turn and then relax it, starting with your toes, and moving upwards. Pay attention to how it feels. This gets the brain focused on the body, which can help the mind to switch off.

On the other hand, try to avoid anything that’s over-stimulating, such as caffeinated drinks or foods that are high in sugar. Be mindful that alcohol can affect how you sleep, too. And, while keeping active through the day can help you to sleep well at night, exercising too close to bedtime can keep you up for longer.  

  1. Try not to ruminate  

The longer that you lay awake, the more you may feel as though time is ticking by, which can make you worry that you’re not going to get enough sleep. Although it might be hard, try not to obsess over how many hours you’re getting, as this will probably only make you feel more on edge and less likely to fall asleep. Instead, accept that all you can do is try to drift off and remember that any sleep is better than no sleep. If you haven’t dropped off after 30 minutes then get up and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy, then try going back to bed.

  1. Talking therapy  

If you’re experiencing insomnia, you might benefit from trying cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT can help to treat sleep issues, as well as other mental health issues that might be affecting your sleep, such as anxiety and depression. Find out more about CBT and how ieso can help here. Our service is free for some NHS patients, you can find out if you’re eligible here.

ieso Online Therapy
This blog has been written by a member of the clinical team at ieso.
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