Many of us will be suffering from poor quality sleep during these uncertain times and this will inevitably have a knock-on effect on our mental and physical wellbeing.
Premium mattress brand Tempur has joined forces with resident sleep specialist Chris O’Sullivan at the Mental Health Foundation to offer sleep tips to help people on the path to more restorative sleep for mental wellbeing.
Tempur has also been offering free sleep consultations for customers, NHS staff and care home workers as part Mental Health Awareness Week, which concludes tomorrow (Sunday, 24 May).
“Good quality sleep is essential to maintaining good mental and physical health,” says Tobin James, Tempur UK Managing Director.
“It’s as important to our bodies as eating, drinking and breathing and can affect our performance, concentration, energy levels, relationships, moods and interpretation of the world.
“Up to one third of the population suffers from insomnia, with common mental health problems such as stress, anxiety and depression often underpinning sleep problems, and likewise, poor sleep often leading to poor mental health.
“These issues will inevitably be amplified as we worry about work, health, family, friends, or finances during the COVID-19 crisis.
“Together with the Mental Health Foundation, we have put together the following guide to help those struggling with sleep to form better habits in order to work towards improving or maintaining good mental health.”
Sleep tips for better mental health
- Dedicate your bedroom to sleep (mainly)
Make your bedroom a temple for sleep. That means a good bed that suits you, curtains or blinds that keep out the light, and a comfortable temperature – ideally a little cooler than the rest of the house.
- Ban screens in the bedroom
Checking your phone last thing at night or browsing social media when we can’t sleep… We’ve all done it. It’s a problem because the films we watch or the emails or feeds we check stimulate our minds and the light from a phone or TV screen can fool our minds into believing it’s daytime. Buy an old-fashioned alarm clock or try putting your phone on flight mode when you go to bed.
- Follow a wind down routine
Our bodies release a hormone called melatonin that makes us feel naturally tired at around 10-11pm. If you go with it and head to bed as you feel tired, you’ll sleep better. Try establishing a bedtime routine that can help you recognise and promote that wave. Turning off the TV and listening to music, having a milky drink or enjoying a warm bath are good ways to rest the mind, and open ourselves up to sleepiness.
- If you can’t sleep, get up
Don’t lie in bed awake tossing and turning. If you can’t get off to sleep or get back to sleep, get up. Try a warm caffeine/sugar free drink or listen to some calm music for a while. Don’t be tempted to check your phone!
- Know your sleep
You need to know how much sleep you need to feel good. It’s likely to be seven to eight hours, but it could be as little as four. Try keeping a sleep diary or tracking your sleep with a wearable device (ideally not your phone). If you have a good idea of how much sleep you need to feel good and what affects your sleep, you can make sure you establish good habits, or pinpoint issues.
- Watch what and when you eat and drink
As a rule, eating less than two hours before bed means that food hasn’t had time to digest before we try and sleep. This can lead to discomfort and indigestion. Fatty or spicy foods can take longer to process and stimulants like caffeine or sugar can give us a boost of energy when we want to be winding down. Rice, oats and dairy products can encourage us to feel sleepy.We like to think that alcohol makes us sleep better. It may help us nod off, but the quality of the sleep you get may be poor, and dehydration or a late-night takeaway can further impair our sleep.
- Exercise – but not in the evening
Exercise is great for mental health and regular light exercise is a good way to improve sleep. Exercise floods the body with feel-good hormones that stimulate our minds and bodies, so beware of exercising late at night as it can actually keep us awake.
- Don’t grab a nap on the way home
Sometimes it’s easy to give in to sleep on the train or bus home after a busy day. If you nod off, even for a short time, you can short circuit the natural hormone surges that set us up for our main sleep. So if you are tired early in the evening, try and get an early night.
- Don’t let a health issue stop you sleeping
Do what you can to treat colds and flu at home and make sure that you speak to your doctor if an ongoing health problem or treatment affects your sleep.
- Find ways to address anxiety and worry
Health is one of our biggest worries. If you lie awake mulling over concerns about your health, or the health of a loved one, you could try a relaxation exercise or mindfulness practice to help settle your internal worries.
Don’t put up with poor sleep
- Basic techniques can often improve your sleep. If tips like these don’t work, speak to your GP. It may be that you have an underlying health issue.If you have insomnia for more than a couple of weeks, or often feel so sleepy you could drop off during the day, it’s worth speaking to the doctor as sleep disorders can increase our risk of developing depression, heart disease or stroke.
“We’re delighted to continue to work with Tempur to highlight the importance of good sleep in preventing mental health problems” says Chris O’Sullivan, sleep expert at the Mental Health Foundation.
“Improving the quality of our sleep is one of the easiest ways to improve our mental health; when we sleep well, we are able to meet challenge head on, focus on work, and have the time and energy to devote to our relationships and our interests.
“Right now, in the middle of a global pandemic, we are likely to be more worried or anxious than ever. That’s certainly having an impact on our sleep. We may also worry about our breathing, and any small symptoms that seem to match those of Covid-19.
“Improving sleep is still a brilliant way to look after our mental health and if you can prioritise it, it will help. If you are finding sleep hard, that’s OK – it’s understandable. Be kind to yourself, and do what you can.”
Tempur will be making a sizable donation to long term charity partner, the Mental Health Foundation, in support of the charity’s Mental Health Awareness Week campaign, bringing total donations over the past two years to just shy of £10,000.