Disrupted sleep is a common side effect of depression. It can cause us to sleep too much or too little. Sometimes it can mean that we wake up during the night.
There are some things we can try to help improve our sleep patterns. However if poor sleep is significantly affecting our lives, it’s something we should speak to our GP about.
When we’re tired it can seem like a good idea to have a quick nap to try and get us through the rest of the day. As tempting it is, if we’re struggling with our sleep patterns napping isn’t always that helpful.
Naps can confuse our sleep schedules, stopping our bodies from developing normal sleep and wake times. If we have a slump during the day it’s fine to sit down and chill for a bit – but if we can avoid sleeping until bedtime, we may sleep better at night.
Having a relaxing bedtime routine and keeping it the same every night can help our bodies to know that it’s bedtime. This could include things like having a warm bath or reading a book. Doing our ‘get ready for bed’ tasks in the same order every night can also help our bodies to know when it’s time for bed.
Cut Out Caffeine
Cutting out caffeine, especially close to bedtime, can help us to sleep. Caffeine is a stimulant so it can stop us from sleeping. Sometimes we don’t realise that there is caffeine in a drink. Most people know that tea and coffee contain caffeine but it’s not such common knowledge that caffeine can be found in things like cola – or even chocolate. It’s worth keeping an eye on what we’re consuming to make sure caffeine isn’t sneaking in unexpectedly.
Exercising during the day can help us to sleep better at night. It can improve both sleep quality and sleep duration. However, exercising too close to bedtime can make it harder to sleep because it can over-stimulate the body. So, it’s better to exercise early in the morning, or in the afternoon, rather than right before bed.
Fear of going to bed
If we struggle to sleep, we can develop a fear around going to bed. Being left alone with our thoughts can be distressing, so we begin to procrastinate going to bed. The more we avoid it, the scarier it can feel until we build up a genuine fear of bedtime.
Changing our night time routine a little bit can break through some of that fear. Working out where the fear lies and changing something in that area can help to improve things, too. It might take a little while to work out exactly what it is that is setting off our anxiety, but that’s okay!
Discussing our fears with someone – a counsellor, a medical professional, or a trusted friend – can be useful, as they may be help us work out what’s causing our anxiety, and what we might do to reduce it.
Keep Beds For Sleeping
Beds are comfy places and it’s tempting to use them whilst doing things other than sleeping. Loads of us will bring our laptops to bed and sit under our duvet answering emails. Our bedrooms can feel like an escape from the rest of the house and we might retreat there to get things done.
But if we’re struggling with our sleep, it can be helpful to find another comfy place in the house to do these things. Keeping our beds solely for winding down and sleeping, helps our brains to associate them with being asleep. If we work on our beds, our brains can get confused about whether we should be sleeping or working. This can make it much harder to wind down and sleep.
It seems obvious that light can be a factor for how well we sleep at night, but we often forget that light during the day matters too.
At night, too much light can disrupt our sleep. If our curtains and blinds aren’t enough when blocking out light, we could try blackout blinds or hanging blankets over existing curtains. We could also try taping newspaper over our windows or wearing an eye mask to bed.
During the day, we need to try and get some natural light. This helps to regulate our biological clock so that our bodies know to sleep at night.
Some medications can cause drowsiness, some can stop us from sleeping.
Working out how our medication affects us can help us to use the side effects in our favour. If our medication is making us drowsy, taking it at night can help us to sleep. If it stops us sleeping, it’s better to take it in the morning if possible.
Sometimes, our medication can cause us to wake up on a morning feeling completely wiped out. Taking it earlier on in an evening can help lesson those feelings. It can take a little bit of trial and error to work out which timings suit us best.
It’s always tempting to fiddle around on our phone, especially if we can’t sleep. It’s easy to get sucked into a social media hole, and before we know it, it’s been two hours and it’s way past our bedtime. On top of that, the blue light from phones can mess with our natural sleep/wake rhythm, making it even harder to sleep.
Leaving our phone away from our bed, and out of temptation can help us to stop mindlessly scrolling. We could also try popping our phone on ‘night mode’, which changes the colour of light that our phones emit, helping to solve the blue light problem.
Even if we can’t sleep, it’s important that we try and rest. Our bodies get tired of powering us through life, and need a break. It’s tempting to get on with our jobs late at night if we know we’re likely to have trouble sleeping. If we do that every night we’re likely to completely burn ourselves out.
If we can’t sleep, we could try sitting or lying in bed relaxing. If doing nothing feels stressful, we could do something low energy. This could include things like reading, journalling or doing a chilled-out hobby like knitting.
Having similar bed times and wake times every day (including weekends), can be helpful. It’s worth sticking to these times, even if we struggle to sleep. Going to bed and getting up at similar times every day can help to train our bodies that night time is sleep time.
Keeping a sleep diary can help us identify patterns and triggers involved in our sleep. Once we’ve identified the things that are helpful and unhelpful to us, we can work on improving things.
It could be something that we could look at with a friend, partner or healthcare professional. They might be able to identify triggers that we miss.
Having a sleepy tea, such as one containing camomile in can help to get us off to sleep. If we’re not a tea-drinker, we could try a warm, milky drink such as hot chocolate.
Some of us like to sleep in silence. Others find silence deafening. If we don’t like silence, but find music at night too much, talk radio, podcasts or audiobooks can be a happy medium. There are some podcasts specifically designed to help people sleep, such as the sleep with me podcast.
Sometimes disrupted sleep can cause us to wake up during the night. When that happens, it can feel really scary because the whole world is dark and quiet and we can feel utterly alone. Leaving something running overnight can help us to feel less alone when we do wake up. It can help us to feel like we aren’t the only person in the world.
Being too hot or too cold can make sleep really difficult.
In the summer, cracking open a window or using a fan can help to cool things down. However, these can also be noisy which makes it hard to sleep. Having the window open and the fan on during the day, then turning them off at bedtime, can help to get around that. It can also help to close the blinds during the day to stop the sun from heating the room up.
In the winter it can get too cold. Having hot water bottles or heat packs, blankets, and electric blankets can help. It might also be worth using a higher tog duvet to use in the winter months. We could also invest in brushed cotton bedding which can feel warmer and cosier.
Some people find that apps can help with their sleep. There are tonnes of apps out there and each is slightly different. Sleep Cycle, Sleep Better, and Pillow are all examples of apps which can help us to track and improve our sleep.
Different apps will work for different people so if one doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean that they all won’t. It can take a bit of time to find the right one.
Write It Down
Sometimes, we can’t sleep because our brains are too full. There are too many things to remember, our ‘to do list’ is too long, or we’re overthinking every social interaction we’ve had that day.
Pulling out a pen and paper, or creating a note on our phone and getting it all out of our heads can stop the thoughts from going round and round and help us to sleep.
Visit the GP
If we’re struggling to sleep for an extended period of time, we might want to visit our GP. It might be that there is a physical problem preventing us from sleeping. Alternatively, they might be able to help us with medication. Sometimes, a short-term sleeping tablet is what we need to get our sleep back into a routine. Others of us might need longer-term sleeping medication. It will vary from person to person, but our GP can help us to find the right solution.
Be Kind To Yourself
Lack of sleep can muddy our brains and make it hard to think and to do things. We need to be kind to ourselves and not beat ourselves up if we can’t get as much done as we would if we weren’t so sleep deprived. Sleep is something that we can work on and improve, it might just take time and a little bit of help.
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