Do you often find yourself waking up throughout the night? What about struggling to fall asleep? Lack of sleep is a major contributor to negative emotions and decline in mental health. Studies have shown that long term sleep deprivation can lead to symptoms such as irritability, depression, anxiety, and physical illnesses such as heart disease. Having a healthy sleep cycle is key in order to avoid bad emotions and falling into the pitfalls of insomnia. However, many folks don’t know how or where to start when it comes to maintaining a healthy sleep cycle. Surprisingly enough, it’s the “little things” that can contribute to keeping our sleep cycle on track. Here’s a list of some big and small things you can do to start (or continue to) regulate your sleep schedule:
Schedule it: It may feel impossible to stick to a regular sleep schedule when so many aspects of our lives get in the way. However, waking up and going to sleep within the same 1-2 hour window everyday (yes, weekends too!) is one of the most important steps in regulating your sleep cycle. When we wake up and go to sleep at different times everyday, our brain and body send each other mixed messages about what we ought to be doing or how long we should be asleep. If this feels like too big of a jump for you- avoiding too many naps can also be an important first step towards sleep regulation!
Let the light in: Our bodies rely on circadian rhythm (an internal process that regulates sleep based on our environment) in order to nudge us in the right direction of when to wake up and go to sleep. If you’re trying to adjust to a new schedule of waking up early, (or maybe you’re just not a morning person) exposing yourself to the light is a great first step in letting your body know- it’s time to get up and get after it!
Pre-bedtime stuff: Not surprisingly, what we do before bedtime sets us up for success. That means, even little things like eating snacks with sugar, going for a run (or any extraneous form of exercise), or watching hours of tv or TikTok can prevent us from falling asleep on time or staying asleep throughout the night.
Cozy time: Think of all the cozy things that make bedtime appealing - dimmed lights, tea, fuzzy blankets, a calming book. These are all things that can become part of our “bedtime routine”. Having a routine helps remind our bodies when it’s time to start shutting down and makes it that much easier to go into bedtime mode.
Relaxing: Many folks who struggle with insomnia either do so because of anxiety, or eventually begin struggling with anxiety as a result of the insomnia. For many, this anxiety manifests as, the second the lights turn out and it’s time for bed, all of the day’s worries begin to surface and take over until sleep feels impossible. Try scheduling time to consider your worries an hour or two before bedtime. This may sound strange, but making a list of all the things you’re concerned about (regardless of if they’re solvable) and getting them out of your head can be enormously helpful once it’s bedtime. Another suggestion is meditation, which these days is made much easier through apps like Headspace, Insight Timer, or even Youtube where you can be guided through by a professional!
Bad emotions can be difficult to manage on their own, but with the addition of a sleep schedule being dysregulated, they can be exaggerated and oftentimes become worse as a result. Although regulating your sleep schedule is not always the only cure to negative emotions, it can often be an important first step in approaching what might be the cause. These five steps are an easy way to start getting closer to a better night’s sleep and eventually, decreasing negative emotions.
Mental Health Counseling Intern