Side sleepers, back sleepers and stomach sleepers all have one thing in common: sleep! Regardless of your preference, getting adequate rest is one of the most important things we can do for our mental and physical well-being. For some, sleep comes easy. For many Hoosiers, sleep can also be a struggle.
To discuss the value of sleep, Christopher Drapeau, Ph.D., HSPP, a sleep psychologist, shares his insights about sleep and our mental health as well as some tips for sleeping better. In addition to his professional background in sleep psychology, he is also the executive director of prevention, suicide prevention and crisis response for the Division of Mental Health and Addiction with the Indiana FSSA. As a sleep psychologist, he provides a non-medicinal approach to addressing sleep issues.
It’s easy to take sleep for granted, but a lack of quality sleep can be detrimental to our emotional and mental health. Dr. Drapeau connects sleep directly to mental health, “If you look at any mental health diagnosis, you will likely see sleep problems attached to it… in our everyday life there is a tie from our sleep to our feelings of emotional control and how we react.”
The science of sleep is studied and practiced by sleep therapists, psychologists, or physicians. Medical sleep assessments typically require a true sleep study, where a patient is observed while sleeping, often overnight in a medical facility, to help establish a diagnosis. In sleep psychology, practitioners are focused more on the psychological and behavioral aspects of sleep and treat patients in a therapy-style session. Sleep ailments like sleep apnea tend to require the assistance of a sleep physician to address a physical issue, while something like insomnia or chronic nightmares could be treated by a sleep psychologist. Dr. Drapeau encourages people to pay attention to their sleeping habits, “Anytime you have a sleep issue that you feel is out of control, that is a good time to check in.”
Dr. Drapeau broke down sleeping into a two-process model based on circadian rhythm, the body’s 24-hour internal clock that affects function and behavior, and a homeostatic sleep drive, the pressure for sleep that builds the longer we’ve been awake. When your circadian rhythm and homeostatic sleep drive (or pressure to sleep) are in sync, you are more likely to sleep well. While the precise timing of everyone’s circadian rhythms and sleep pressure can differ depending on daily habits, we can work to achieve optimal sleep by paying attention to our body and our actions.
To help achieve optimum sleep, Dr. Drapeau encouraged evaluating your sleep hygiene which he described as, “what you do throughout the day that sets you up for a good night of sleep.”
Establishing Better Sleep Hygiene:
- Avoid vigorous activity before bed – heavy excessive or stress-inducing work.
- Examine caffeine or alcohol intake – understand how substances affect you and adjust intake.
- Consider about the room temperature of your sleeping area – 68-72 degrees is optimal for most.
- Light in the room – too much light including phones or clocks can affect your sleep.
- Create a log – monitor what you drink or eat and when, then compare it to how you slept.
In addition to assessing and improving sleep hygiene, how we approach sleep also factors into the quality of our sleep. Dr. Drapeau acknowledged that there are some external factors like periodic limb movements or mental factors like distracting thoughts, that can interrupt our sleep, “There are psychological factors to sleep. If we assume we’re going to have a rough night of sleep, it’s possible that that assumption could lead to it.”
If you’ve been lying in bed, but unable to sleep for at least 20 minutes, get up and out of bed. Do something relaxing. Overthinking sleeping can affect your ability to relax and go to sleep. “Never lay in bed and TRY to go to sleep, because you can then begin to associate bad sleep with the PLACE you go to sleep.”
If there is something on your mind, like a project or plan for the next day, get up and out of bed. Make a list about everything you’re thinking about. That way it’s written down and you can address it the next day instead of worrying about it when you are trying to sleep.
Dr. Drapeau says if you wake up feeling rested, or if you can sit on the couch in the middle of the day and not feel tired, it’s likely you got a decent night’s sleep. On the other hand, if you fall asleep within two minutes of getting into bed, it could be a sign you are not getting enough sleep. You may want to examine your activities or behaviors.
Best Tips for Better Sleep:
- Make sure the room is dark enough and comfortable – consider all light sources and temperature.
- Leave any stressors out of the room – journaling, note taking, making lists can help.
- Save the bed for sleep – avoid working or other activity in your bed that could associate the place you sleep with something that could cause stress.
Ultimately, sleep is a very personal and individual thing. Dr. Drapeau advises against stressing over it, “We’re at a point where we have got to give ourselves a break. If you stress out about getting good sleep, you are just not going to get good sleep. Set things up so you can relax and chill.”
If you need help from a sleep professional, call 2-1-1 to help source a practitioner near you.
To be able to focus on mental health, your basic needs (shelter, food, clothing, health care, etc.) must be met first. Indiana 211 is a free, safe and confidential way to connect to resources from around the state and in your community.
If you need support, call 2-1-1. The resources on Indiana 211 are updated weekly to provide the most accurate services.