4 Steps to Improving Your Mental Health Through Better Sleep

When we don’t get enough quality sleep, most of us worry primarily about how tired we’ll feel the next day. It’s only when it becomes an ongoing, chronic issue that some of us start to realize the mental impact of poor sleep. It’s not just that we feel low, stressed, or unfocused: Research has shown that sleep deprivation could be a cause of certain psychological disorders as well as a symptom of it. Luckily, a few simple changes to your sleep habits and environment can be enough to improve your quality of sleep, and in turn ensure your mental well-being. 

Guest Post by: Stephanie Haywood from MyLifeBoost.com

Photo Credit: Photo via Unsplash.

When we don’t get enough quality sleep, most of us worry primarily about how tired we’ll feel the next day. It’s only when it becomes an ongoing, chronic issue that some of us start to realize the mental impact of poor sleep. It’s not just that we feel low, stressed, or unfocused: Research has shown that sleep deprivation could be a cause of certain psychological disorders as well as a symptom of it. Luckily, a few simple changes to your sleep habits and environment can be enough to improve your quality of sleep, and in turn ensure your mental well-being. 

Dr. Stacy can help you create a personalized mental map to help you reach your health and fitness goals. Schedule an appointment today!

Make Your Bed as Comfortable as Possible

Start with the obvious. If you want to sleep well, you need to make sure your bed is perfectly suited for it. If you haven’t switched mattresses in a while, you may want to invest in one of the new “bed in a box” models. Next, focus on your pillows. According to Good Housekeeping, the key to a good pillow is providing a neutral alignment with your spine. In general, this means side sleepers need thicker, firmer pillows, and stomach sleepers will need thinner pillows. 

Assess Your Environment

Your room should be geared toward restful sleep. If there’s too much light, try installing blackout curtains. Noisy city dwellers could benefit from a white noise machine. Too warm at night? Open your windows or get a fan.

If you get too warm or too cold during the night, you may want to invest in a fan or portable heater. Alternatively, if you fear expensive electric bills, something as simple as opening the window or buying warmer pajamas can make a world of difference. 

Last but not least, make sure that you keep your bedroom organized. Disorganization can lead to you experiencing feelings of anxiety, which can very easily disrupt your sleep. In addition to keeping your room clutter-free, make sure you take the time to clean your bedroom doors and windows. Every little bit can make the space more relaxing.

Create a Relaxing Bedtime Ritual

If you tend to lie awake in bed going over the day’s problems, your problem has less to do with your environment and more to do with the state of mind you are in when you go to bed. In order to prepare your mind for sleep, create a bedtime ritual that relaxes you and winds you down. 

You could, for example, have a soothing herbal tea with sleep-inducing properties, such as chamomile, passionflower, lavender, lemongrass, or valerian root. You could also take a long hot bath or shower or read a few pages of a book. A few stretches can also be extremely effective, and they have the added bonus of soothing sore or tense muscles. You can do knee-to-chest stretches for lower back pains, lunges for sore glutes, and child’s pose for releasing neck tension. 

Once you’re in bed, meditation can be an extremely effective way to stop spiraling thoughts. Popular meditation app Headspace has an entire section dedicated to sleep, including guided meditations as well as relaxing sounds and music. If guided meditation isn’t your thing, try taking some deep breaths to clear your head and relax your body. 

Get Moving

Your quality of sleep is not just linked to your bedtime habits. What you do throughout the rest of the day also matters. The best example of this is exercise. In itself, exercise is excellent for both your physical and mental health. However, regular exercise is also linked to good sleep, with several studies showing that people who work out tend to sleep better.

It doesn’t matter when you work out, and it doesn’t even have to be intense exercise. As long as you do it regularly, you will likely see an improvement in your quality of sleep within a few weeks. 

Every night, our minds and bodies have the opportunity to rest, reset, and process the day’s events. If your environment and habits aren’t geared to allow this, it is going to be a lot more difficult for you to get the sleep you need to feel mentally well. Start by identifying what your barriers to sleep are, and then address each one individually until you have perfected your sleep routine. Your mind will thank you. 

Here’s How You Can Sleep Well Even if You Have Back Pain

Getting to sleep is hard for many of us. Let alone trying to get to sleep with pain. Here are some ideas to help you get to sleep and stay asleep if you suffer with back pain.

Guest Post by: Cheryl Conklin of WellnessCentral.info

Back pain is one of the leading causes of sleep issues. You can’t get comfortable, don’t get restful sleep, and have problems that carry over into the morning. It can make you fatigued and lead to other health issues. Whether you wake up with back pain or you’re heading to bed in pain from a long day of working your muscles, there are many things that can help you manage your back pain. These include medicine, physical therapy, and surgery. However, there’s also one surprising way that’s been proven in a study to be of potential benefit.

Apps May Be the Answer

The study was conducted in early 2019 and showed that participants with back pain that used a management app for 12 weeks found more relief than those that didn’t. Does this mean apps are the answer? It couldn’t hurt. With that in mind, here are a few apps to start with to see if they can help with your back pain and related issues. 

Stretching Before Bed

Stretching before bed is one of the best things you can do to release any pent up tension or aches and pains you’re feeling in your back. It will help relax the muscles so you’ll sleep better. With apps like 6 Minute Back Pain Relief, which is a gentle workout program that helps to reduce your back pain or Yoga for Back Pain, which uses yoga poses made specifically to reduce back pain, improve flexibility, and stretch your muscles. 

Relaxation Apps 

One way to reduce your pain is to reduce your tension. That can be achieved by relaxing your mind and body before falling asleep. Just like stretching and yoga are meant to help, so is meditation. With Headspace, you can learn to meditate, live mindfully, get expert advice from a former monk, and enjoy themed sessions, including stress reduction, sleep-enhancing, focus improvement, and anxiety relief.

Diary Apps

Recording how you’re feeling will help you better track your back pain so that you can determine any patterns and share results with your doctor. With CatchMyPain, an intelligent pain diary app that helps you track your pain, you can even connect to similar patients and trade tips. The app also provides a body model that lets you draw where your pain is and label the intensity of your pain. You can also track your happiness, stress, and fatigue, record your medication intake, and much more. It’s the perfect way to help you track what’s happening with your pain. 

iTens Device

TENS devices are made to provide pain relief stimulation to areas that are experiencing pain. TENS devices work by sending tiny electrical signals through your skin, which intercept pain signals and keep them from reaching your brain. They’re used by athletes for pain relief and faster recovery. iTENS is an app-controlled version of this device that can help you get over your back pain. With customizable settings, you can use it on various body parts and pain levels. With the app, you can control these settings and even be able to track your results after each session. iTENS can be used on your ankle, knee, wrist, back, and shoulders. 

One Last Thing

Using apps on your phone overnight (or even your smartwatch) can run the battery down. In addition, some apps require the use of your plan’s data. Running them overnight could eat up your data and lead to overage charges. You can avoid this by looking into unlimited phone service plans, which will give you more data to explore apps that will bring you a better night’s sleep. Either way, giving yourself the tools you need to overcome sleep issues is a good start. 

Although back pain can disrupt your life, there are steps you can take to help alleviate some of that pain. And while you might not be able to eliminate it altogether, you can find ways to give yourself some reprieve to help you get a good night’s sleep.

Interested in more help for your back pain? Check out this article to learn more about reducing inflammation in your system which can help reduce physical pain sensations.

Image provided by guest author, Cherly Conklin via Pixabay

Sleep Is Spiritual

In our quest for good sleep and our worry that we won’t find it, we often overlook our spiritual resource

Have you ever thought of using your sleep to help your spiritual growth? Sleep is a time when our conscious minds turn off, at least the time when we are really asleep. However, our subconscious does not sleep in the same way. It keeps going under the surface and continues to find, organize, categorize, and set us up for the next day. With this powerful tool, it’s time to use your sleep to program your best life ever.

Before going to bed tonight … ask for guidance. You can ask from whatever you believe in. Believe it’s all biology, then ask your own cellular wisdom to direct you. Ask for guidance without need to figure anything out, solve the problem, or create a plan. Ask for guidance to sleep deep and restful, then give thanks for the deep restful sleep you are about to have. Give thanks as though you have already had a great night’s sleep. As you say thanks feel how great you are going to feel in the morning, the ease of clarity you are going to have, and the peace you experience just because you slept well. As you begin to drift off dream about the things you want to accomplish in your life. See yourself having them, participating with them, and feel how good it feels to have gotten them.

All of this sets your subconscious mind up to tap the deeper resources you have and help you take one more step in the direction you want to go on your personal path.

Dream well.

Sleep Better Tonight

 Let’s talk about sleep. According to the CDC one third of the US population struggles to get enough sleep. take medication to get and stay asleep. Our work, technology, and movement needs have changed throughout the years. As a result more of us have trouble falling and staying asleep. A good number of us turn to sleep aids – pharmaceuticals, alcohol, falling asleep with the TV on, doing more and more so we are “really tired”. However, these aids are often short sighted and do not help us access the deep sleep we really need. Read on to review key areas where you can shift your behavior and take control of your sleep cycle again. 

Many people struggle with sleep because they negate its benefits. In our individualistic action oriented culture many people see the value of doing more over taking a break. Thus, they short their sleep in favor of getting one more item graded, one more report done, one more idea mapped out, one more treat made. In the long run this is a recipe for disaster. Your mind keeps racing with ideas as it gets trained to do more and those ideas sometimes become worries. Before we know it we’ve lost precious sleep time to thoughts, fears, and anxieties. 

There are some key strategies you can do to end the cycle of not enough sleep, self medication with caffeine all day, and then being too wired to sleep well. Inevitability starting the cycle all over again. 

Time

Let’s start with the first and one of the most easy places to intervene: Time. Research shows that for the average adult 7-9 hours of shut-eye is best. That being said there are some exceptions – most of us are not those exceptions. Instead, most of us who get less than 7 hours or more than 9 have adapted to habits. Our bodies are amazing adaptions machines.

This does not mean it’s always adapting to optimal – it adapts to survival. As we shorten the time we sleep we impact the Hypothalamus – Pituitary – Adrenal axis. The body’s stress system. This impacts cortisol levels and fluctuates things like weight gain, inflammation rates, joint problems, pain levels, disease states, immunity, ability to concentrate and be productive, our ability to connect and play well with others, and energy balance needs (creating more carbohydrate cravings) to name a few. Today commit to making changes to get at least 7 up to 9 hours of sleep per night. 

Below we will discuss how to do that. As I know some of you are like “WHAAAAT!?!?! How the hell am I supposed to do that?!?!?!”

One of my favorite tools to get and stay asleep, I love this ladie’s voice! Works to get to sleep and when I wake up in the middle of the night and have to get back to sleep. Jen Piercy, Yoga Nidra for Sleep – Powerful Guided meditation to fall asleep fast –

Diet

Next let’s talk about diet. What you eat all day matters. When your nutrition is depleted by poor food choices your body can not make the neurotransmitters and hormones it needs to restore itself to optimal health at night. By eating for your bio-individuality you give your system what it needs. Then during the night your body helps itself recover and prepare for your day ahead. In turn this keeps you from reaching for “crutch” foods to maintain your energy balance – sugar, caffeine, alcohol, quick carbohydrate.

These “crutch” foods can be ones that deplete the system, increase stress and inflammation on the body systems, and actually do not provide you with maintained focus and clarity you are really looking for throughout the day. Instead picking dense nutritious foods provides you with the sustainable energy while also giving your body what it needs to prepare for a good night’s sleep. When you choose foods that give you sustainable energy you are creating a positive cycle that supports your system rather than tearing it down. If you need help knowing where to start. See a dietitian or nutritionist to help you find your bio-individually meal plan. 

Light and Sound

Now let’s talk about light and sound. Our physical bodies were made to respond to fluctuations in light. As the sun rises so does our cortisol helping us wake up. As the moon rises so does our melatonin helping us prepare for sleep. This system is often disrupted by things like electricity, sounds, and screens. Many of us keep our home lights on full force during the evening to help us preform tasks of daily living in today’s society. As we use this technology we have to manage it well. Start lowering your lights, shut off bright ones, close curtains, lower music, TV, other sounds. This allows us to work with the natural systems rather than fight against them leading to that “2nd wind” many of us have experienced. 

In addition, screens are tough on sleep. They emit a blue light that signals cortisol and “wake up” like morning light. Plus the pixels move even when they look steady to our eyes. This keeps our brains awake and paying attention. Start turning screens off about an hour before your bed time, keep them out of your bedroom, and use a blue light filter if you do need to look at them prior to bed. This time frame gives you space to build a solid bedtime routine, which prepares your body and your mind to rest. 

Movement

Finally let’s talk about the body. Our bodies ere made to move. Allowing them this pleasure helps them metabolize stress chemicals, focus the brain, and just plain get tired. This prepares us for sleep. Most of us do well to do harder workouts at least 2 hours before bed time and a simple easy stretching routine 10-15 min right before bed. This helps slow the mind by lowering the breath rate, signaling the heart rate to slow, and the brain to signal time to relax to the rest of our systems. Things like a warm bath, shower, tea, cozy clothing, weighted blankets, relaxing smells, all help us get into the physical system and shift it toward sleep. Plan to spend the hour before bed winding down with these activities helping yourself crawl into bed ready to rest. 

Developing a New Sleep Hygiene Routine

Routines take time to develop. Here are some ways you can build your sleep routine to help you get to sleep, stay asleep, and wake up refreshed and ready for your day – no matter what’s on your agenda or when the coffee’s coming.  

  1. Complete all strenuous physical activity 2 hours before bed. 
  2. Have a list where you can place all items you are thinking about right now. Shift your focus to getting ready for bed and being done with today. Anything on this list will be addressed tomorrow morning, so you can rest assured knowing you will take care of it. Place the list by your bed to capture any ideas, thoughts, worries that wake you up in the middle of the night, remind yourself you will deal with the list in the morning. 
  3. Begin shutting down lights, closing curtains, decreasing sounds, and light 1 hour before bed
  4. Turn off screens. Shut off the TV in favor of paper reading items, turn off your facebook, instagram, and email. If you must look at screens, turn on your night filter to eliminate blue light. 
  5. Spray your pillow, bed sheets, room etc with a relaxing scent like lavender or chamomile. 
  6. Brew yourself a sleepy time tea, settle in with blankets and soft clothing to enjoy it. 
  7. Take a warm bath, shower, or wash your face, hands, feet with warm water to signal the brain to begin slowing down. It helps if you use essential oil to help your brain really relax. 
  8. 15 min before bed time, do a simple stretching routine. It could be moon salutations from yoga, or easy movements that feel good to your body, stretching all the ones you used today. As you stretch focus on the physical sensations of letting go and resting. Use props, blankets, pillows, your bed, etc. to help your body release any tension and really let go without worry. 
  9. Walk through the house, prepare to end the day – lock doors, straighten papers, shoes, etc so you can rest well. Nothing big here, just gentle reminders that you are done for today and ready to rest. Tomorrow you can finish the dishes or wipe the floor under the wet shoes. Crawl into bed, set your alarm, and turn off any soft lighting still on.
  10. If needed use a guided sleep meditation or soft music to help you adjust and drift off to sleep. These can be helpful if you wake up in the middle of the night, too. 

If you do wake up – do not panic. Just note, I am awake right now. Write any racing thoughts, ideas, worries, on your list, remembering to remind yourself you will deal with this tomorrow and by sleeping now you are better prepared to solve those problems. Use scents, mediations, etc as needed. If you do have to get up – say to pee – keep lights low or off and move slowly. Do not even open your eyes if you do not need to. Again reminding yourself it is time to sleep now.  

In the event you cannot fall back to sleep. Get up and move to another room – keep lights low/off and movements slow. Curl up and get cozy. If you have to read use paper materials and low lighting. Maybe fix a sleep tea to help your system calm. The more you worry about being awake the worse it gets as anxiety sets in and you struggle to rest. Need more ideas here’s another article with 10 ideas for getting and staying asleep.

Self Compassion with Sleep Changes

In the end … Remember it takes time to build a new routine. If you have created habits around not sleeping or getting up throughout the night it takes some time for the body to shift. About 21-30 days. By practicing your new routines without judgment toward yourself you are setting yourself up for success. Many times, just shifting how you view your routine can be helpful. Move away from negative talk and toward what is working. Start by:

  1. Shifting your sleep time by 15 min per week toward your ultimate goal. 
  2. If the list above is overwhelming, take on one change a week
  3. If you wake up – DO NOT panic. Just go with the flow and remind yourself you are working in a positive direction. Be gentle with yourself and your environment. 
  4. If you find too much light (if you can see your hand move in front of your eyes with them closed after lights out) or too much noise, help yourself out and get a sleep mask, ear plugs, and/or a white noise machine. 
  5. Limit all distractions – pets in your bed, kids in your bed, partners. Sometimes a good pillow or separate blankets between ya’ll is enough. 

CDC resources for sleep –https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/resources.html