Improving Sleep Quality: Psychological Approaches

Poor sleep quality is associated with a range of mental health problems, and it is possible that improving sleep could be an effective part of a preventive approach to psychological wellbeing. There is growing evidence that a good night’s sleep is as important for mental wellbeing as a healthy diet and exercise.

1. Identifying the Causes

Sleep is a critical time when the brain and body repair themselves, strengthen the immune system (which has close ties to mental health), consolidate thoughts and memories, bolster our ability to regulate emotions and control our behaviors, and recharge systems that help us focus, connect with others, and cope with stress. While scientists are still discovering all that happens during sleep, it is clear that high-quality sleep is essential to our mental well-being.

Poor sleep quality can have many different causes. Sometimes, the problem is a medical issue like insomnia or sleep apnea. Often, it is a result of an underlying mental health condition such as anxiety or depression. Sometimes, it is caused by lifestyle factors like stress, working night shifts, or being constantly connected to the digital world.

Fortunately, most of the problems that cause poor sleep are easily remedied. Changing your bedroom environment, using blackout curtains, and limiting screen time at bedtime can all improve sleep quality. In addition, eating healthy foods and getting regular exercise can also make a difference. And most importantly, addressing the underlying mental health issues can help reduce the impact of the sleep problems on your mood and wellbeing.

For individuals experiencing serious, chronic sleep problems that do not respond to self-help interventions, it may be necessary to consult a psychologist. Psychologists have the professional training and skills to address many of the underlying conditions that can cause or worsen sleep problems such as anxiety, depression, and stress.

Moreover, research has shown that psychological treatments for depression and anxiety can have an immediate positive effect on sleep, particularly by reducing symptoms of insomnia. It is therefore important for healthcare professionals to include these interventions in routine mental health care for people who have depression and/or anxiety.

The link between sleep and mental health is bidirectional, with many mental health conditions contributing to sleep disturbances and vice versa. Addressing both of these areas simultaneously can alleviate the symptoms of a mental health condition and enhance overall well-being. By including strategies to improve sleep in mental health treatment plans, clinicians can offer more effective, integrated and holistic care for their clients.

2. Developing a Plan

After a night of tossing and turning, or a day spent fighting sleepiness and fatigue, you may be ready to commit to improving your sleep quality. This can be a significant and life-changing goal, but it can also be overwhelming without a plan. Fortunately, there is a series of specific changes you can make that can help you sleep better.

Start Small: It’s important to be patient as you try new habits, especially if they don’t take hold right away. It can take weeks or even months to develop a new habit, and it’s helpful to set goals that are achievable over time.

Track Your Sleep: Keeping a journal of your sleep can help you identify patterns and make improvements to your routine. You can also use apps that allow you to monitor your sleep activity, and some even have relaxing sleep stories and visualizations to help you fall asleep.

Create a Bedtime Routine: Sticking to a consistent sleep schedule helps train the body and brain that it is time to sleep. It is also important to limit stimuli before bedtime, such as exercise, stressful conversations, and intense television shows.

Avoid Stimulants: It is essential to cut down on caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol consumption as these can interfere with sleep. A reduction in your stress level is also a key factor in good sleep, and meditation, deep breathing, and relaxation techniques can all improve your ability to sleep.

Choose a Healthy Diet: A balanced diet full of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can support good sleep. Choosing lean protein and complex carbohydrates can help regulate your blood sugar levels, which will impact how easily you fall asleep.

Make Your Bedroom a Sleep Environment: The environment in your bedroom can have a big effect on sleep. Keep the room cool, dark, and quiet. Use a white noise machine to reduce sounds like barking dogs or neighbors, and keep the TV and computer out of the bedroom.

Lastly, ensure your mattress and pillow are comfortable and supportive. Using a pillow that is too soft or hard can negatively impact your sleep.

3. Implementing the Plan

The best way to improve sleep quality is to develop and implement a plan. Having a regular bedtime and wake time and avoiding caffeine, nicotine and alcohol are important for good quality sleep. It is also important to maintain a healthy diet and exercise.

Some studies have found that contemplative practices, like meditation and mindfulness training, can help people improve their sleep quality. These techniques can be done at home or with the guidance of a therapist. It is also important to remember that while quantity of sleep is important, it is the quality of the sleep that matters most for your health and wellbeing.

4. Monitoring the Plan

There is more to getting a good night’s sleep than simply counting the number of hours you spend asleep. Sleep quality is just as important as quantity and if you’re not getting the restful sleep you need, it can cause a variety of symptoms including lack of focus in school or work, increased fatigue, irritability, and impaired social relationships.

Psychologists who specialize in sleep are highly trained to assess your sleep patterns and determine the best ways to improve them. They will take into account your overall health and well-being, health beliefs and behaviors, as well as any underlying stressors that may be interfering with your sleep. They may also use tools such as the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) to evaluate your sleep health. This tool asks patients to self-rate responses on seven different components of sleep – ranging from the difficulty in falling and staying asleep, to daytime dysfunction.

Studies of PSQI show high internal consistency (Cronbach’s alpha) and test-retest reliability, as well as convergent and divergent validity with sleep, psychological and socio-demographic measures. A global score of 5 or higher designates poor sleep quality.

The latest research suggests that sleep interventions are not limited to people with mental health difficulties but can also have a benefit for people who experience less severe mental health problems such as low mood and anxiety. According to Halifax Psychologist, it is therefore crucial to study these effects in clinical settings and across a broad range of populations and experiences.

This includes examining whether interventions that improve sleep can be effective for different populations, in both clinical and community services, as well as assessing how they might impact different types of mental health difficulties at lower risk of methodological bias.

The current review found that CBTi interventions that included modules addressing processes associated with mental health were no more effective in improving sleep than those that did not. However, the results suggest that further study is needed to investigate variables that moderate the impact of improving sleep on mental health. It is also vital that more trials examine how to deliver these interventions in existing clinical and community care settings.