Lots of changes come with the fall months. Temperatures drop, leaves change into beautiful colours, and the days begin to get shorter. These shortened days reduce our exposure to sunlight, interrupting our body and brain’s natural cycles. This lack of sunlight can lead to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and poor sleeping patterns. Unsurprisingly, these seasonal afflictions become more common in northern areas where the amount of sunlight lost in a day is significantly more.
Our bodies rely on something called the circadian rhythm to keep our internal systems in order. This function works like clockwork to regulate body temperature, brain wave activity, cell regeneration, hormone production and more. The rhythm is heavily influenced by light and dark cycles. You may have experienced your circadian rhythm be altered through jet lag, as travelling long distances quickly into another timezone can disrupt this biological clock by experiencing sunlight at what would be irregular times.
So the seasons change, disrupting our internal clocks, leading to in many cases compromised sleeping patterns. It is crucial for your body’s health and your mental health to maintain regular sleeping habits. Losing sleep will reduce your ability to focus, slow your reaction times, and overall reduce your cognitive abilities. In the U.S., chronic sleep issues affect up 18% of all adults, but that number can be as high as 80% when looking at psychiatric patients. Those struggling with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and ADHD frequently suffer form chronic sleep issues. Studies have shown that sleep issues often develop before major depression symptoms.
Research has shown that insomnia and other sleep disorders, including the failure to maintain a regular circadian rhythm, contributes to the development of other mental health disorders. Returning and maintaining a healthy rhythm and sleep schedule can help alleviate mental health issues and strengthen mental and emotional resilience. The perspective of bad sleep simply being a symptom of poor mental health rather than a cause is changing. Not to mention sleep depravation can lead to weight gain, reduced libido, and the acceleration of aging effects among other problems.
What Can You Do At Home To Improve Sleeping Habits?
If you feel like your sleep could be improved, it probably should and it definitely can. Anyone can make strides towards better sleep habits and feel the results from sticking to it. You must be diligent and committed to improving, as it will require some routine changes.
1. Slow Down at Bedtime
Your brain must rest before you do. Crawling into bed with your brain still highly stimulated from watching TV or other blue light screens (phones, computers, tablets) will contribute to poor sleep. You might not realize it but looking at a screen is hard work for the brain. A screen built of thousands of smaller images, and your brain works hard to interpret it as something cohesive. So turn off and tune out for an hour before bedtime to help your brain relax. Reading, calm music, yoga, or any other activity that helps you relax and clear your brain will contribute to better sleep.
2. Stop Working
Our lives are busy and whether you are studying or working, often we find ourselves cramming what we can into the day before we sleep. But working like this, even away from a screen, can contribute to poor sleep. This is especially true for those who are not the type of person who gains pleasure from the work. So keep work at work when possible and ensure you are getting adequately relaxed before taking to bed.
3. Your Bedroom Is A Sleep & Sex Temple
Our brain associates places with certain emotions or activities and this stretches into the bedroom as well. If your bedroom is full of distractions, screens, or exercise equipment your brain will continuously associate the room with those activities. Same goes for the bed being a regular hangout for other activities during the day. Clearing your bedroom and dedicating it to sleep and sex only can help the brain focus on what is important and contribute to a more restorative sleep.
4. Get Physical
Getting active and building up a sweat during the day not only can lift your mood and reduce stress but have a dramatic effect on increasing the amount of shut eye you can get. Experts recommend to workout at least four hours or more before sleep to comfortably contribute to a good night’s sleep, which means you are more likely to have a better workout the next day. Keep in mind this is not a quick fix. You must keep up the exercise regularly for few months before you find yourself with improved sleeping habits.
5. Get Regular
Being consistent in your bedtime and wakeup helps your circadian rhythm and promotes better sleep. Despite what you may think, you cannot “catch up” on sleep during weekends by sleeping in. What you are actually doing is hurting the rhythm you built during the work week. If you are able to keep the routine up of falling asleep and waking at the same time, seven days a week, you will find yourself waking up feeling more refreshed with less of a reliance on alarms.
It may seem silly to you but the benefits of visualization can truly help improve your sleep. Taking time before bed to relax and envisioning yourself having a peaceful and restorative sleep can help lead to exactly that. Visualization is a strong tool frequently used by professional athletes to achieve maximum performance, and you can use the same tool to promote better sleep. Do not underestimate the power of the inner mind’s eye!
7. Avoid Nicotine, Caffeine, & Alcohol
By design, caffeine blocks the chemicals that make you feel sleepy, so having a caffeinated drink too close to bedtime can inhibit your ability to fall asleep and get a restorative rest. Nicotine raises blood pressure and speeds up your heart rate and brain waves. Alcohol, while effective at putting you to sleep, does more harm than good in relation to establishing regular sleep patterns. It disrupts your circadian rhythm directly along with all the other symptoms heavy and regular alcohol consumption can bring.
If you are experiencing sleeping problems or mental health issues, solving one does not mean the other will go away too. While they are closely related and improving on one can bring progress into the other, fixing sleep patterns should not seen as a cure for mental ailments, but it is a great place to start. Establishing a healthy routine for sleep will provide benefits in wide range of situations including work, social life, energy, productivity, the body’s ability to heal, and your overall health.
If you are struggling to build a healthy sleep routine and are feeling low as a result, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can be incredibly beneficial for building the habits. Phototherapy or Light Therapy can also be extremely effective for regulating your circadian rhythm.
Do not get discouraged if your first attempts at improving your sleep patterns do not seem to take effect. It can take some time to build it, but once built you will start seeing the benefits. Everyone is different. From the pillows you find comfortable to whether you identify as a night owl or early bird. Find what works for you and keep it consistent.
If you are in distress or are looking for assistance in improving the quality of your sleep, please contact us today and we will pair you with professional help.