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  • Lemuel Tan

Sleep Hygiene & Mental Health

Here is a riddle:

When we ask this question you can never say yes to it?

Answer: Are you asleep yet?

We spend one third of our lives sleeping yet when we talk about mental health we somehow tend to gloss over the concept of sleep. Sleep is such a vital part of a person’s well-being and the lack of it creates many physical and mental health problems. You do not need to be diagnosed with Insomnia (problems falling and staying asleep) to know that you have a problem. Just having insufficient sleep or too much sleep may impact one’s mental state for the day.

I once had a supervisor who told me that all human beings require 5 basic needs to survive: oxygen, water, food, shelter and sleep. One could argue the need for several other factors: gravity, ability to defecate, ideal environmental conditions such as temperature, etc. Regardless of the additional factors, you will find sleep on any list of basic survival needs.

The longest record holder for the lack of sleep is Randy Gardner, who went without sleep for 11 days and 25 minutes in 1964, at the age of 17 years old. However, due to our current understanding of the impact and dangers of the lack of sleep, the Guinness World Records no longer records voluntary sleep deprivation. The lack of sleep can impact your immunity system meaning that you will struggle to fight off illnesses, increase chances of a coronary heart disease or stroke, reduce cognitive capacities such as: decision making, reasoning, problem solving, concentration alertness and reaction times. The lack of sleep also impacts your mental state such as your capacity to regulate your mood, resulting in an individual feeling more anxious, angry, moody, etc. It can additionally decrease memory storage and retrieval capacities, reduce libido functioning, increase weight gain, etc. Extreme cases of lack of sleep can cause hormonal imbalance, paranoia, hallucinations, loss of eye sight and even possibly death.

An average adult needs about 7-8 hours of sleep while adolescents need about 10 hours of sleep. When we sleep our DNA gets repaired and body replenishes itself.

So since sleep is so important, it is important that we ensure that we take good care of sleep. This is where having good “Sleep Hygiene” is essential. Sleep hygiene is basically a variety of habits that are necessary to have a good quality rest. They do not guarantee you having a good night sleep but the lack of these habits will most likely increase the chances of poor sleep. Below are some tips about sleep hygiene:

  • Do not stay in bed if you are awake. You cannot force yourself to sleep. If you do not fall asleep in 20-30 minutes, get up and do something boring, in another room. Try and keep the lighting fairly dim. When you are tired, go back to bed. This helps your mind associate sleeping with bed.

  • Do not drink caffeinated drinks in the evening. Coffee, tea, soft drinks, energy drinks and some types of drinks contain high caffeine content and caffeine has stimulating effects. Try not to drink too much before bedtime and make sure you go to bed with an empty bladder so your sleep is not disrupted by frequent trips to the toilet.

  • Do not look at the clock all the time. Clocks with bright numbers are a distraction and can make you obsess with the overall time. This will make it difficult to sleep.

  • Go to bed at the same time each day. The body has a natural clock which will make you sleepy when you are ready for bed. Going to bed too early may result in disturbed sleep.

  • Get up from bed at the same time each day. Getting up the same time helps to keep your body clock synchronised with what is going on outside. If you can stick to a fairly regular waking and sleeping time, your body will become accustomed to it.

  • Get regular exercise each day. Research has shown that regular exercise improves restful sleep.

  • Try to spend some daytime outdoors in natural light. Sun light is important for the body to produce melatonin. Melatonin is a sleep promoting hormone in your brain. People who struggle to sleep can be prescribed Melatonin by their doctors, however, you can avoid taking medication by just being out in the sun.

  • Do not use alcohol to help you sleep. Alcohol may get you to sleep but it may also cause you to wake up early and experience more trips to the toilet. Alcohol also increases the chance of fragmented sleep and worsens snoring and sleep apnoea.

  • Make the bedroom as restful as possible. This means keeping the temperature comfortable, keeping noises and outside light to a minimum and leaving distracting things such as beeping watches, clocks, pets, etc. outside.

  • Use your bed only for sleep. Avoid using your bed as a lounge room – studying, watching TV, playing mobile phone games, etc. You will need to make sure that your bed is associated with sleeping. The brain makes connection between places and events and you can help reinforce this.

  • Be comfortable and relaxed. Have comfortable pillows and clean bed linen. Practise relaxation, breathing and grounding exercises.

  • Do not take naps. Naps often will throw off your body circadian rhythm and you will find it harder to sleep at night.

  • Have a warm bath. A warm bath about an hour before bedtime causes the body temperature to rise and then fall which may promote sleep.

  • Do not engage in stimulating activity before bed. Playing mobile/pc games, watching an exciting programme or movie on TV, having an important family discussion will stimulate your mind and thoughts will overflow to the bedroom. Worrying about or planning the next day’s activity may be a natural thing to do but try to avoid this before bed time.

  • Do not go to bed too hungry or too full. If you have a habit of a light supper, you should keep doing this but do not eat too much.

Please visit your doctor if you are struggling with sleep. There may be biological causes for the lack of sleep and early intervention is the best cause of treatment.

Disclaimer: The material on this blog is not to be used by any commercial or personal entity without expressed written consent of the blog's author. The article above is an opinion of an individual clinician and should not be taken as full clinical advice. The statements on this blog are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any mental health or mental illnesses. Always consult your doctor for medical advice or seek professional therapy.

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