Getting enough quality sleep is one of the best things you can do for yourself, especially if you’re recovering from addiction or a mental health issue such as an anxiety disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, or others. Even a few nights of too little sleep can lead to significantly higher levels of anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. When you don’t get enough sleep, your prefrontal cortex is the first part of your brain to suffer. That means you have poorer concentration, emotional regulation, and self-control. Sleep is also when new learning is consolidated in your brain, when your body fights infections, and when you heal from injuries. In short, your health and wellbeing suffer when you don’t get enough quality sleep.
The good news is that it only takes one good night’s sleep to bring anxiety back to normal levels and improve your mood. Sleeping well most nights will improve your long-term health and state of mind. However, insomnia and disturbed sleep are common for people recovering from addiction, depression, and anxiety. Here are some ways to improve your sleep and get more benefits from a good night’s rest.
Go to bed and get up at regular times.
This is probably the best advice for good sleep but it’s also the hardest advice for most people to follow. No one wants to go to bed early or get up early on weekends. For many people, sleeping late is the whole point of weekends. However, keeping a regular schedule allows your body to get into a rhythm. Falling asleep and waking up are actually complicated processes that entail changes in hormones and body temperature. Having an unpredictable sleep schedule makes these processes harder to coordinate. On the other hand, a regular schedule means your body knows what to expect every day, which leads to better quality sleep.
Practice good sleep hygiene.
Good sleep hygiene is simple, easy, and usually ignored. It means only using your bed for sleep and sex. This especially means no watching TV or looking at your phone in bed. This way, getting into bed becomes a sort of trigger for sleep. It’s also important to keep your room as dark as possible. Studies have found that people who sleep with even a little light in their bedrooms are at higher risk of depression. Wear a sleep mask if you can’t get your room completely dark. It’s also good to keep sounds to a minimum. Earplugs can help with that. Since your body temperature naturally drops at night, keeping your room cool, ideally under 70 degrees will help facilitate deep sleep.
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself.
If you get into bed and don’t fall asleep quickly, it’s easy to panic and start thinking things like, “Oh no, another sleepless night! I’m already exhausted; how am I supposed to get through another day with no sleep?” and so on. This only makes things worse. A better approach is to focus on the positive. Are you comfortable? Are you happy to rest at the end of a long day? Focusing on these positive feelings takes the pressure off. And even if you don’t get as much sleep as you would like, you still get some sleep and quite a bit of rest. It may not be ideal, but it’s also not terrible. Some people suggest that if you don’t fall asleep within half an hour or so, it’s a good idea to get out of bed and read for a few minutes or do something relaxing until you start feeling sleepy, and try again.
Talk to a therapist.
It’s not always easy to recognize when our thoughts are interfering with sleep. A therapist can help you develop better sleep habits and show you strategies for managing your thoughts and emotions when you find yourself lying in bed unable to sleep. There are several approaches to better sleep that a therapist can help you try. Be sure to tell your therapist about your addiction history and other mental health issues, since those might affect which treatments are suitable for you.
Have a nightly routine.
Just as your bed should be a sleep trigger, a regular nightly routine can signal your mind and body that it’s almost bedtime. In general, developing good habits is easier when the habit is done as part of a sequence. For example, most people get out of bed, go to the bathroom, and brush their teeth. Brushing your teeth is automatic because it’s the last thing in a daily sequence. Similarly, a regular sequence before bed prepares you for sleep. So you might, for example, write in your journal, take a warm bath, brush your teeth, and go to bed. Doing it the same way every night means you’ll fall asleep much more quickly when you lie down.
It seems a little paradoxical, but exercise helps you sleep better. First, it wears you out a little. Your body wants to rest and recover, so you’ll find it’s a little easier to sleep on days when you’ve exercised. Second, it reduces anxiety and improves your mood. Less anxiety means you won’t be lying awake worrying instead of sleeping. Just don’t exercise too close to bedtime. Exercise temporarily increases your heart rate, adrenaline, and cortisol, none of which facilitates sleep. It’s usually best to exercise more than two hours before bedtime.
Plan ahead for trips.
Traveling can really disturb your sleep schedule. This is especially a problem for people with bipolar disorder, who are very sensitive to schedule disruptions and too little sleep. If you expect to travel to a different time zone, start preparing in advance to make the change less abrupt. You may also want to bring a sleep mask and earplugs in case your accommodations aren’t dark and quiet. Finally, keep in mind that we don’t sleep as deeply in unfamiliar places, you you might need to sleep longer to feel rested.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction or mental illness, we can help. Recovery Ways is a premier drug and alcohol addiction treatment facility located in Salt Lake City, Utah. We have the resources to effectively treat a dual diagnosis. Our mission is to provide the most cost-effective, accessible substance abuse treatment to as many people as possible. Request information online or call us today at 1-888-986-7848.