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Mental Health Awareness Week: Top sleep tips for young people

Mental Health Awareness Week is upon us in the UK, and with it comes a welcome focus on the reality of life for so many of us. Statistics rarely do justice to the experience of people living with mental health difficulties, but figures like 35% of women and 19% of men aged 16-24 report experiencing suicidal thoughts really highlight how prevalent mental health issues are today.

With 75% of adults with a diagnosable mental health problem experiencing their first symptoms by the age of 24, it's an issue that's front-and-centre for young people across the UK. 

During the COVID-19 crisis, we have found that a lot of the young people we work with have come to us saying that they have been struggling to sleep during the lockdown.

With lots of advice coming out about how to live and work well from home during the UK's Covid-19 isolation, we thought we'd distil the best advice we've seen, with a focus on how to sleep well and improve your mental health during this period.

We came up with three simple points (all S's of course!):  

Schedule (your time), 

(structure input from) Stressors, 

and (curate your) Space. 

Let's take them one-by-one. 

Schedule 

Having a good routine to your days is important at the best of times; it gives you purpose, helps you feel productive, and ensures that you don't spend too long watching Netflix! But having a good schedule is also important in terms of how you sleep. Research suggests that 'maintaining a regular sleep schedule…maintains the body's internal clock and can help you fall asleep and wake up more easily'. The better routine we have around sleep, the better-quality sleep we will have, and this all contributes towards our mental health.  

Not only scheduling your sleep, but also scheduling the rest of your day is a helpful way to ensure that you are looking after your mental health. Maybe it's scheduling every minute of your day in a calendar (Get Up, Do a Joe Wicks Workout, Eat Breakfast, Shower, Start Work etc.), or just to have a few key 'anchors' in your day. These anchors could be things like having lunch, breakfast and dinner at set times, perhaps an 11 am coffee, getting in some exercise at 4 pm or scheduling something to watch at 8 pm. Whatever it looks like to you, scheduling your time helps to ensure that your days have notable markers in them to work, rest and play. 

Scheduling your time could also include thinking about the time you spend in front of screens, and how that can be adapted and potentially reduced. It's particularly important to think about this around bedtime, and ensuring that you are allowing time for your eyes and mind to rest before you go to sleep. 'Parenting your phone' is a helpful tip here. Just as you would with a child, put your phone to bed an hour or two before you go to bed, and give yourself an hour or two in the morning without it before you start the day. 

Stressors 

Ensuring that any interaction with stressors (in all their forms) is structured, and reduced where possible, is also something to think about in protecting your sleep. The key stressor at the moment is likely to be the news, so thinking about how you can structure your news intake in a healthy way could be the first step. Perhaps this is only looking at the news twice a day on your phone, or limiting yourself to one news programme on TV per day, or turning to weekly news magazines or papers in their physical form; whatever works for you and helps you maintain a healthy relationship with the news. 

 

Another stressor at this time could be your goals. Maybe you've been searching for a job in a certain area that just doesn't look like it will be possible for a while. Maybe you were enjoying your work but have recently been furloughed. Or maybe your usual routine has been interrupted - you can no longer do the things that keep you feeling healthy and positive. This calls for taking some time out to re-think your short-term goals at this time. This is a great opportunity to go further and think about the long-term too. Can you use this time to re-shape your next five - ten-fifteen years by thinking about where you want to be and what you want to be doing? Can you lower the bar and allow yourself to have some goals that are more manageable for this time? Can you change your goals; instead of looking for work, this could be a great time to up-skill yourself, or join one of our virtual job clubs to share the burden? All of this should help you reduce the pressure on yourself, and remove any feelings that you have to perform or achieve; ultimately putting your mind at rest to sleep well. 

The final thing to say under stressors is that this is going to be a time when we need one another. If we are to reduce the impact of stressors on our lives so that we can sleep well, we're going to have to become good at asking for help, accepting help, and giving help. The more we can support each other through this, the better. 

Space 

One very practical thing we can do to help our sleep is to think about the space we sleep in. It may well be difficult at this time to renovate the bedroom (although if you can, why not!), but there are some simple creative things we can do to improve our sleeping space. 

  1. Lighting; think about how you can get some low-lighting and blackout curtains. Maybe this looks like resurrecting the Christmas lights and popping them up around the room, or popping a large book or picture frame up against a window if our curtains aren't quite keeping out the light. 

  2. Music; some relaxing music can really help with our sleep. Apps like headspace do a great job of helping us sleep well, and there's a tonne of 'Sleeping' playlists on Spotify that are also fantastic to nod-off to. 

  3. No Technology; if you can, make your bedroom a technology-free zone. This might mean charging your phone outside your room at night (or on the other side of the room), and thinking about removing any TVs or laptops from the room too. This will help you reduce technology intake before sleep, something that the NHS advise for good sleep. 

Those are our thoughts on how we can sleep well, and ultimately improve your mental health during this period.  

We'd love to know what you think! Post your top sleep tips on Instagram, tagging @circlecollectiv, with the hashtag #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek, and let's learn together.