It’s well-established that sleep is essential to our physical and mental health. But despite its importance, a troubling percentage of people find themselves regularly deprived of quality deep sleep. In this new article written by Willow Hutchinson, Registered Psychotherapist, she delves into the foundations and routines you can use to develop healthy sleep habits.

Do you struggle to get enough sleep? According to the Public Health Agency of Canada 1 in 3 Canadians are not getting enough sleep. Adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep; insufficient sleep can lead to less productivity, more stress, and poorer physical and mental health. We sleep because it rejuvenates us and gives our bodies and mind time to recharge and rebuild.

Good “sleep hygiene” (meaning habits or practices related to sleep) includes adjusting your sleep environment. This consists of a slightly cooler bedroom temperature, a nice, dark room with blinds over the windows, avoiding screentime an hour before bed, and keeping the bed for only sleep and sex. The human brain and body are both complex, yet simple things. Creating and maintaining a routine will help the body and mind fall into a pattern. Set an alarm and aim to both get up and go to sleep at the same time each day. Your body and brain will both learn and appreciate this rhythm.

Another aspect of good sleep hygiene is reducing your caffeine intake; avoiding nicotine and alcohol where possible, especially before bed (up to 4 hours prior). Balancing calories; consider your intake and output. To stay awake, the body needs calories and if you’re consuming more calories, you may find yourself unable to fall asleep. Similarly, exercise will not only help with caloric balance, but will also help your body’s hormone balance. Exercise will increase fatigue, and also increase the amount of growth and muscle repair hormone which is only created during sleep.

Getting at least 20 minutes of sunshine is another important aspect to getting good quality sleep. Getting sunshine allows your body to regulate its circadian rhythm. Sun during the day paired with darkness before bedtime (meaning no screentime an hour before bed) allows your body to better regulate its circadian rhythm, allowing you to sleep better.

If your concern is getting to sleep in the first place, being “unable to turn off your mind”, you are not alone in this. If it’s a task you need to do and you’re afraid you’re not going to remember, write it down. Perhaps you’ve already written it down or other concerns are plaguing your mind, know that you can’t do anything about it right now, and worrying about it at 2 AM isn’t the solution. Being proactive about your anxiety may include talking it over with a therapist who can provide you with tools to work through your challenges.

You can find restful, restorative sleep and enjoy a more productive and healthy life by employing techniques that are easy to learn and apply.

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Willow Hutchinson is a Psychotherapist registered with the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario. She works out of the Life Therapies clinic in Ottawa assisting adults (16+) to address a variety of concerns, including anxiety, depression, burnout, boundaries, codependency, trauma, domestic abuse, grief, imposter syndrome, self-esteem, suicidality, spiritual/religious concerns, gender identity/ sexuality questions, multicultural issues, obsessive compulsive tendencies, and COVID-related concerns including job loss, lack of motivation, and depression.