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Sleep and Mental Health

Few people would dispute that lack of sleep leads to crankiness, stress, and an inability to focus, but studies suggest insufficient sleep can also increase the severity of depression and anxiety. This not only makes your existing problems worse; it can hinder progress made in counseling. Are some of these common problems causing you to miss the sleep you need?

During the Day/Evening:

  • Napping more than 15 minutes in a day (anything longer than a “power nap”) can increase difficulty in falling asleep at night.
  • Caffeine inhibits drowsiness, and the effects last an average of 5 hours; some people feel the effects for up to 12 hours. It’s best to stop use of these products after lunch. Don’t forget—a chocolate bar can contain up to 1/3 as much caffeine as a cup of coffee!
  • Don’t Smoke or use Tobacco Products—especially in bed. The stimulants make falling asleep difficult, and nicotine withdrawal symptoms experienced while sleeping make it hard to stay asleep. (We hope that if you smoke or use tobacco products, you will find a safe way to quit.)
  • Exercising within three hours of your bedtime can make it harder to fall asleep as it is stimulating and raises your body temperature. A lower body temperature is more conducive to falling asleep; it can take 3-6 hours for body temperature to drop after exercising.
  • If you’re not exercising on a regular basis, you’re missing out on deeper levels of sleep.
  • An inactive lifestyle increases difficulty in finding a comfortable sleeping position. Bodily discomfort decreases for those who regularly exercise and stretch before and after a workout (to prevent injury and soreness).
  • Drinking too much of any fluid will cause you to wake up to use the restroom.
  • Drinking Alcoholic Beverages disrupts sleep and is not a sedative—it’s a depressant. Alcohol is also a diuretic. It can cause you to wake up to use the restroom. An even worse outcome—it could cause you to wet the bed (alcohol is also a muscle relaxant). Using alcohol to sleep is a warning sign of alcohol dependency. (We also do not recommend drinking alcoholic beverages.)
  • Medications often have side effects that affect sleep patterns. Read the warning labels of any medications you are taking. Talk to your doctor about your concerns in regards to any medications he or she prescribes or recommends.
  • Eating a Heavy Dinner can cause indigestion, acid reflux, or heartburn leading to restlessness and waking during the night. Meals with high amounts of protein take longer to digest, and fatty food slows the digestion process.

Preparing for Bed:

  • Constant changes in your sleep schedule make it harder to set your internal “clock” known as your circadian rhythm. For example: If you’re in the habit of sleeping in on the weekends, you likely have a hard time falling asleep Sunday night and feel tired on Monday. Going to sleep and waking at the same time every day (even on the weekends) provides the consistency your body needs.
  • A routine to prepare for bed such as brushing your teeth, preparing your bed, and changing into pajamas gets you accustomed to a standard routine which helps you let go of the concerns of the day and mentally prepare for sleep.
  • Bright Lights are a stimulant. Staring at the bright display of a mobile device or Computer inhibits the production of melatonin—a hormone that regulates your brain’s sleeping and waking cycle.
  • Computer work, texting, or watching television in bed can over-stimulate you and can cause anxiety. Using your bedroom (especially your bed) for any activities besides sleep or sex creates an association between your bedroom and activities that distract you from the calm state of mind necessary for falling asleep.
  • Reading before bed helps you focus on something besides your own anxieties, but reading a book that is too exciting or stimulating can keep you from falling asleep. Books that have short chapters and Magazines are easier to put down since they have built-in stopping points.
  • With the exception of storm warnings, when was the last time the Evening News provided valuable information you needed before the next day? Bad news right before bed doesn’t cultivate a calm state of mind necessary for falling asleep. Checking the weather report online before preparing for bed can spare you the bad news while briefly giving you the information you need.
  • Additional distractions such as ringing or vibrating phones/mobile devices can wake you or prevent you from drifting off to sleep. Watching the minutes tick by on a glowing alarm clock display can also be stressful and distracting.
  • A bath right before bed is thought to be a good relaxing activity, but the rise in body temperature can prolong your wakefulness. A short shower with cooler water has a milder effect on body temperature.
  • A cup of tea before bed is also thought to be a relaxing activity, but drinking hot beverages (even decaffeinated coffee and tea contains caffeine) raise body temperature which inhibits sleep.
  • Lying down and expecting to fall asleep without taking 15-20 minutes to “wind down” can increase stress and delay falling asleep.
  • Relaxing is difficult if your mind is still preoccupied with things you need to do. By writing and prioritizing a to-do list, you can release the burden of worrying about the next day. (A tip from Dr. R. Benton Ruth)
  • Focusing on negative events and feelings can be harmful. Think of what you’re thankful for. Not only is this exercise calming, it’s a good habit to think of positive things. (A tip from Cozette Myers.)


  • Disruptive noises interrupt your sleep and can irritate you which intensify difficulty in falling asleep. Limit the noise that you can control, and for the night-time noises you can’t control, use a white noise machine.
  • Sharing a bed with someone who snores, tosses and turns, or prevents you from sleeping is a bad idea. Many people who are accustomed to sharing a bed don’t consider sleeping in a different room or in a separate bed—thinking that by sleeping apart, it could doom the relationship. When you’re well rested, it’s easier to be in a good mood which can keep you from snapping at your significant other—this could improve your relationship as well.


  • Starting the day with coffee instead of food starts a bad cycle for the day. By eating a light meal (fruit and complex carbohydrates) soon after waking, you can reset your internal “clock” (your circadian rhythm). When your body knows your day has begun, it is easier to tell your body when your day ends, which makes falling asleep easier.

Finding a suitable sleep schedule is a highly individual matter. Not all advice will work for all people. If you have a severe medical issue such as sleep apnea, insomnia, or other sleep disturbance, seek assistance at a local sleep clinic. Before beginning an exercise program or changing your diet, consult your physician.

This article is a public reference and information source; not be used for self-diagnosis, treatment, nor a substitute for counseling sessions. To schedule a counseling session, contact CrossRoads at 317-842-8881 if you are in the Central Indiana area. For help outside of this region, contact a local counselor.