Getting Better Sleep to Improve your Mental Health

Sleep problems are already common in those that experience anxiety and depression and the time change can exacerbate that. We have some tips for better sleep from a CU Medicine psychologist.

Soon we will “spring forward” changing our clocks again. A time change can really throw off sleep cycles and cause sleep deprivation. That change in your sleep schedule can also affect your behavioral health and psychological state.

We talked to psychologist Dr. Angelo Alago, from CU Medicine Family Medicine Depot Hill. He helps his patients improve their sleep which, can also improve their mental health and vice versa. “When we’re feeling stressed or anxious that maps onto the danger areas in our brain. Does it make sense to fall asleep when you’re in danger? No. So you’re going to have a hard time sleeping if you’re feeling stressed or worked up,” said Alago.

Strategies to Improve Sleep

“There are three major recommendations that come out whenever I’m talking with somebody about sleep,” Alago said.

1.  Get up around the same time every day

“All of us have a built in body clock that’s called the circadian clock, and it’s set primarily by the first dose of light we get every day. If that happens at different times on different days, our clock is always trying to play catch up,” said Alago.

He added that stabilizing your wake up time is one of the best things you can do to get better sleep. Leading up to a time change, start preparing a few days to a week early. Go to bed 15 to 30 minutes earlier than your usual bed time to make up for the hour that we’ll lose and to adjust your schedule.

2.  Limit what you’re doing in bed to sleep

Alago explained that our brain loves to make connections and patterns and you want to make sure to connect your bed only to sleep. Alago said, “Anytime you’re doing anything other than sleep, including struggling to sleep, you’re teaching your brain the wrong lesson.”

You don’t want your bed to equal feeling frustrated, so avoid browsing social media or watching television in bed, only use your bed for sleep.

3. Don’t leave yourself too much time for sleep

“This is where I start to lose people,” Alago said, and it’s because it can be tricky to master.

We’ve all heard that it’s better to get a certain number of hours of sleep; eight, nine, etc. You set aside that amount of time, but it takes you a while to fall asleep - so even if you’re in bed for eight hours, you only sleep for six.

“You’re planning for two hours of insomnia,” added Alago.

Instead, figure out how much you’re actually sleeping and only spend that much time in bed. Stick with that number and you can work on building that number up later.

“To start, if you’re wanting to get your sleep under better control, you have that fixed wake up time, count backwards from the number of hours you’re realistically getting and that becomes your new bedtime,” said Alago.

What will start to happen is that within a few days your body will adjust and start to recognize that you only have that amount of time for sleep. The result? You’ll start to fall asleep quicker and stay asleep.

Dr. Alago provides mental health services through the CU Medicine integrative practice model at CU Medicine Family Medicine Depot Hill. Click/tap here to learn more

If you or someone you know is in need of urgent mental health support, call Colorado Crisis Services at 1-844-493-8255 or text “talk” to 38255. You can also chat online through the Colorado Crisis Services website.

TAGS: anxiety, depression, Integrative practice, mental health, Primary care, sleep, Time Change

CATEGORIES: Health Education, Mental Health

This post was originally posted on February 23, 2022