Bad sleep makes a good life very difficult

Mental Health

Dr. Happy

When most people think of health and wellbeing, they typically think about exercise and diet, which is great, because both of those are extremely important.  

But there’s another “pillar” of health and wellbeing that’s far too often ignored, discounted, or underappreciated; and that’s sleep.  

A lack of sleep can cause or exacerbate health problems and notably, can cause or exacerbate mental health problems. At the same time, common forms of mental ill-health, such as depression and anxiety, can cause or contribute to sleep difficulties.  

So, whichever way you look at it, adequate hours and good quality sleep is vital for living a thriving and flourishing life. And here comes the good news! For most people most of the time, some relatively simple behavioural and lifestyle strategies can make a significant positive difference, relatively quickly.  

I describe these strategies in full detail in my Audible Original, “Habits for Good Sleep” (HERE). But today, I’m happy to provide you with an abbreviated version, and I hope you find these, some of my favourite tips, helpful.  

To begin with, it’s vital to make sleep a priority. Too many people put other things (work and/or binge-watching TV and/or scrolling through social media) before their sleep. Now these activities are not entirely without merit, but if they’re getting in the way of sleep then at some point, you’ll pay the cost; and that can be very “expensive”!  

If you are keen to prioritise your sleep then you need to look at what you do at night, but also through the day.  

That is, if you do the right things through the day, you can set yourself up for better sleep at night. For most people, this will involve exercising regularly (preferably in the morning), eating well (and especially not overeating at night), and avoiding excessive consumption of alcohol and caffeine (especially in the evenings).  

Further, managing stress, and in fact managing life, will help you sleep better. The biggest cause of insomnia is stress and worry so addressing stressors and facing up to and dealing with worries, through the day and NOT at 3 am in the morning, will undoubtedly help. Going to bed knowing that you’ve done the best you can do for the day, and that you have a plan to do what you need to do tomorrow, can make for a much calmer approach to the evening, and calm is more likely to be conducive to sleep than its opposite.  

Still, what we do in the evenings is also, not surprisingly, important. Specifically, having a good sleep routine, including a healthy “wind down” period, can make a massive positive difference.  

Much of this is common sense but one thing I’ve learned over many years is that common sense isn’t always common practice. So, in brief, make sure that you begin your sleep routine about 60-90 minutes prior to the time you want to go to sleep. During that time, try as best you can to avoid all screens (TV, laptops, tablets, and smartphones) and as much as is possible, to minimise stress and distress. If anything related to one of these activities comes up, make a note, and set aside time to do what you need to do tomorrow, or as soon as possible. Instead, fill this time as best you can with relaxing and calming activities like talking to a loved one or reading or maybe even practising relaxation or meditation.  

After many years helping many people I’ve learned that there’s no magic solution to sleep difficulties; but there are effective strategies, such as those I’ve just outlined, that have been proven to work for most people most of the time. Try them, practice them, master them, and then persevere. I guarantee it’ll be worth it.  

Dr Happy

Please note: Dr Happy's blog is general advice only. For further information on this topic, please consult your healthcare professional.

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