What’s sleep got to do with it?
I provide counselling at SDNPC, and one of the questions I often ask during a client’s first appointment is, “How’s your sleep?” Most clients look a little surprised to hear a social worker asking this, since many people associate sleep with physical health. But it’s so much more than that.
Sleep is vital to our mental, emotional, and physical health. While we sleep, our brains are organizing and storing experiences from the day, helping us learn. Everything from our immune systems to our heart and lungs need sleep to work well. Sleep also helps us manage stress and emotions during the day.
If you have trouble sleeping, you’re not alone. About 1 in 4 Canadian adults have trouble sleeping. This number jumps to 1 in 3 people between the ages of 35 and 64 years. Canadians who struggle with sleep are more likely to be living with chronic stress and mental health concerns. The pandemic has only made this worse for us. Sleep experts even coined the term “COVID-somnia” to describe the distressed sleep they were hearing about.
The good news is that there are a lot of things you can do to improve your sleep:
1) The Bedroom
If possible, keep your bedroom cooler and dark during sleep hours. Don’t use your phone in bed, or if you have to, see if it has an “eye comfort” or “blue light filter” setting. Make sure it’s quiet. Some people like earplugs to cut out traffic and neighbor noises.
2) Food and Activity
Be conscious of your use of alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine around bedtime. All of these can disrupt your sleep. It’s also important to try not to eat right before bed, and keep any exercise to at least a couple hours before bedtime.
Come up with a routine that works for you, but keep your bedtime and wake time consistent. Even on weekends. Find a way to unwind before bed. Do you like to take a bath? Do some gentle stretching? Read a book? Ideally, keep screen time to a minimum before bed.
4) Address frustration, stress, and worry before and during sleep
If you do wake up, don’t beat yourself up for it, and try to practice accepting that your sleep has been disrupted without getting frustrated. The frustration will just keep you awake. Some people also like to clear their minds before bed by journaling or listing what’s bothering them. Others enjoy mindfulness activities, like guided meditations or deep breathing exercises.
5) Talk to your Nurse Practitioner
If you are struggling to sleep and can’t figure out what’s going on, talk to your NP. They can connect you with supports like counselling to manage stress, or medications if you need them.
Quick tip: To get the most out of deep breathing, make your breaths in shorter than your breaths out. My favorite deep breathing exercise is to breathe in while counting 4-3-2-1, and breathe out while counting 7-6-5-4-3-2-1. I do this at least three times. It’s a proven way to calm down the nervous system.
For more information about sleep, check out sleeponitcanada.ca.