Work on improving the quality of your sleep with these strategies from Dr Bek…

The importance of quality sleep has been touted regularly as part of the elixir of a contented and healthy lifestyle. The core elements impacting sleep quality include physical health, physical activity, levels of stress/cortisol arousal, and social connectedness. It’s likely that each of these areas has been impacted during the recent pandemic.

Disruption to our sleep routines upsets our body clock and vice versa. Sleep problems are associated with feelings of anxiety and low mood along with multiple physical health impairments.

Dealing with your sleep disturbance is as important as managing any physical health concerns you may experience. Before seeking further medical or psychological intervention, here are a few strategies you can put in place to improve your sleep quality:

  1. Think about your personal sleep pattern. Notice any changes to your sleep that have occurred since the restrictions of Covid-19. Has your sleep improved, lengthened, or become worse? What do you think has caused these changes?
  2. Focus on sleep efficiency rather than actual sleep time alone. Sleep efficiency is a function of actual time asleep divided by time in bed. This means that more time in bed does not automatically equate to better sleep efficiency. Sleep hygiene strategies are all about improving sleep efficiency (try a Sleep Hygiene Test here).
  3. Surf the sleepy waves. It is a misconception that when we sleep we do so soundly all night through. There is a natural rhythm to our sleep cycle which means that experiencing some awakenings in the night is not atypical. Understanding how sleep usually works is important because it helps you to not worry so much about sleep. You can learn about the sleep “waves” here (and here for teens).
  4. Improve sleep habits. Tips include-
    • Getting up at about the same time each day.
    • Going to bed when you are sleepy, not before – experiment a little to find the best time for you to go to bed.
    • Keeping bed for sex and sleep, e.g. avoid working in bed.
    • Unwinding and preparing for bed about one hour before bedtime – have a bath, turn off all digital screens, dim the lights, avoid alcohol and other stimulants to give your body a chance to recognise sleepiness and catch that wave when it comes.
    • Taking a break from trying to sleep and focus instead on rest. Accept resting as an opportunity for resetting; allow yourself to drift during your rest time.
    • For more ideas, try here.

Special Cases

Chronic illness or disease, significant mental health concerns, periods of heightened trauma and significant life events can also impair usual sleep patterns (for example, see here for strategies for managing sleep with chronic pain conditions).

Disruption during these times is anticipated, but often unhelpful to overall recovery and restoration. Likewise, prolonged periods of disturbed sleep have adverse effects on our general health and wellbeing.

Still Can’t Sleep?

If you have tried the suggestions here and you are still concerned about a troublesome sleep pattern, seek professional support sooner rather than later. Sleep deprivation impacts us psychologically and physiologically by shifting our circadian rhythm and impacting our emotional wellbeing.

Sometimes our sleep-wake routine is so disrupted that we think we suffer from insomnia. Medication is often the first choice treatment but in fact science indicates cognitive behaviour therapy is the more effective approach. Sleep specialists, including psychologists who focus on sleep management, offer accessible and science-based strategies for diagnosing and treating sleep problems.