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Having trouble sleeping? You are not alone!

Sleep is undeniably an important part of our everyday life. It is an essential process that allows us to recharge and start our days feeling refreshed. Healthy sleep has many health benefits and plays an important role in protecting us against diseases.
Although many people understand the importance of sleep, many of us still live through our days without enough of it to keep us functioning at our best. When we don’t get enough sleep or the quality of our sleep is poor, our ability to process information is hindered, which can negatively impact our daily functioning.
Poor sleep quality (often resulting in sleep deprivation), can have many adverse effects on the mind and body, like increased irritability, anxiety, depression, stroke and heart-disease.

What exactly constitutes ‘healthy sleep’?

The amount of ‘healthy’ sleep required varies by age. Compared to adults, children and teenagers will typically require more sleep than the average adult. As for adults, the average requirement is around 7 to 9 hours of consistent sleep each night.
Below is a guide as to how much sleep we should be getting on average, broken down by age group.

Age GroupRecommended hours of sleep per day
0-3 months14-17 hours
4-11 months12-15 hours
1-2 years11-14 hours
3-5 years10-13 hours
6-13 years9-11 hours
14-17 years8-10 hours
18-64 years7-9 hours
65 years or older7-8 hours
Source: Sleep Foundation

What might be affecting your sleep quality

There are a number of factors to keep an eye out for, as these can prevent us from getting a good night’s sleep. While there are many factors that can influence our sleep quality, some consistent factors include disruptive bedroom environments, day-time naps, and poor diet. Other factors that impact sleep quality also include prescription or illicit drug use during the night and pre-existing mental health disorders such as depression or anxiety.
However, it is worth noting that the duration of sleep is not directly associated with quality of sleep. Some people may sleep for a long period of time but still experience poor quality sleep.
Our expectations about sleep can also play a large role in determining the amount of sleep we get. The more open-minded and curious we remain about our sleep, the more likely we will fall asleep faster and for longer.<span

How do I know if my sleep quality is good or poor?

According to the Sleep Foundation, there are some questions that you can ask yourself to get a sense of the quality of your sleep such as:

  • How long does it take for you to fall asleep?
  • How long are you asleep in bed?
  • How often do you wake up during sleep? And for how long?

Taking longer than 40 minutes each night to fall asleep, spending less than 85% of your time in bed not asleep, and taking more than 20 minutes to fall asleep again after waking up during sleep, are often signs of poor sleep quality.

It may be helpful for you to keep a sleep diary to track your sleep experiences. This can be done when you wake up in the morning and before bedtime. It would also be good to note down anything throughout your day that may possibly affect your sleep.

Useful sleep hygiene tips

Whilst it can be easy to identify when our sleep is poor, it can be difficult to know what to do to improve our sleep quality. Here are some tips that will help you improving your sleep quality:

  • Reset Expectations. Often the pressure we place on ourselves to commit to a good night’s sleep can have the opposite effect. If you find yourself getting worked up about sticking to a strict bedtime or not getting the perfect amount of 6-8 hours,  treat each night as if it were a ‘new’ night with no expectations as to how and when you will drift off. 
  • Create a Healthy Sleep Environment. Start introducing habits around setting up a ‘healthy’ (*note: not perfect!) sleep environment. This might look like removing clutter from your bedroom, placing your technology devices in another room to charge overnight, getting into a made bed, etc. 
  • Selecting an Unwind Activity. Committing to a calm and restful activity before bedtime can be an easy way to set up simple sleep associations. Sleep associations allow your brain to start associating specific tasks or activities to let your body’s nervous system know that it’s time to wind down for the night. Whether you commit 5 or 30 minutes to this activity some examples could be reading a book, journaling, stretching or even a few deep breaths. 
  • Get your Digestion Ready. Getting a good night’s rest begins well before the sun sets. In the afternoon avoid stimulating beverages and food, such as energy drinks, caffeine or excessive amounts of sugar. Opt for green tea, nourishing fruits and protein-rich snacks e.g. blueberries, greek yoghurt, almonds or hummus dip and vegetables; if you have an afternoon energy slump or sudden sweet tooth. Likewise if you are eating dinner late, try to keep the meal light and stick to foods that are anti-inflammatory i.e. avoid too much heavy red meat, garlic, onion, alcohol, refined grains, etc.

When to speak to a professional

If you are experiencing issues with sleep, consult your GP for a professional evaluation and additional strategies. Speaking to psychologists may also be helpful in understanding whether chronic issues with sleep are suggestive of a sleep disorder (e.g. Narcolepsy, Hypersomnolence disorder) or possibly part of another issue such as a mental health disorder (e.g. depression, anxiety disorders).
Chat to one of our friendly psychologists today at Mind Matters to discuss your options and start your journey to maintaining better quality of sleep.

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