Mental Health Mondays: How to Get More Sleep (hint: Get off your phone!)

By India Ogazi

Dr. Pedro Bustamante

How much sleep should you be getting? That depends on your age. Babies should get as much as 16-18 hours per day, kids in school about 9.5 hours and adults 7-9 hours.

More than a third of adults aren’t getting enough sleep, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Medical research shows a lack of sleep affects your physical health, safety (think driving while drowsy), and mental health.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), sleep is important to your brain function. Too little sleep makes it more difficult to learn and remember things. Research has shown without sleep your brain can’t generate or maintain the pathways in your brain that help you to learn and remember information. Studies also have shown that a lack of sleep can affect your mood. When you’re sleep deficient you may have difficulty making decisions, solving problems, controlling your emotions or coping with stress. The NIH has even linked sleep deficiency to depression.

Not getting enough sleep? Legacy psychiatrist Dr. Pedro Bustamante offers the following recommendations to change that:

  • Set a sleep schedule and stick to it. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day — even on the weekends.
  • Avoid screens before bed. Using electronic devices late at night disrupts your internal sleep clock. It’s a growing cause of sleep problems. It is best to avoid screens –TVs, tablets, computers and phones in the 1-2 hours before bed.
  • Create a relaxing bedtime ritual. This will let your body know to prepare for bed. Start to unwind with a relaxing activity, such as reading or listening to soft music.
  • Take a hot bath 1 ½ to 2 hours before bed. It may help you help you relax and feel sleepy.
  • Don’t take your worries to bed with you. Try relaxation techniques like stretching, yoga and deep breathing to unwind, or make a list of the issues that are bothering you and work on fixing them the next day.
  • Avoid caffeine and nicotine. They are stimulants that can keep you awake.
  • Wake up to bright light. Natural or bright light in the morning helps regulate your internal sleep clock.
  • Avoid large meals and beverages late at night. Light snacks are helpful if you are hungry but a large meal can cause indigestion and disrupt your sleep. Also, drinking too many fluids can cause you to awaken frequently to urinate.

“If you’re still struggling with getting to sleep, you should consult a primary care physician,” says Bustamante. “If you’re not able to get to sleep due to anxiety, depression or other mental health concerns, consult a mental health professional,” he says.