Ask a Therapist: Sleep issues

One of the most important things for our mental and physical health is sleeping well. Unfortunately, so many of us have issues with sleep — whether it's having trouble falling asleep, waking up during the night, oversleeping, or not feeling rested in the morning.

In this video, we spoke to Rashida Dungarwalla, a registered psychologist with years of experience talking to young people about sleep issues and how to manage them.

Download the transcript.

I really want to encourage you to not underestimate the importance of sleep. Sleep is going to have a really huge impact on not only our emotional, mental, physical health, it's going to have an impact on our overall wellbeing.

What we learnt from Rashida:

What can poor sleep look like?

  • Sleep deprivation: When it's hard to fall asleep when you're getting into bed, and going to sleep at night.

  • Disrupted sleep: When you're waking up frequently throughout the night and find it hard to go back to sleep.

  • Oversleeping: When you're finding it difficult to get up in the morning, or you're really fatigued and want to keep sleeping. This can be common in teenagers.

What causes poor sleep?

  • Our lifestyles tend to be quite productive and active. Sometimes, those activities go into the hours that we're meant to be sleeping so we're not giving our brains the chance to wind down before going to sleep.

  • When we experience sleep issues, it impacts our mental health. When we have issues with our mental health and stresses throughout the day, that then impacts our sleep the following night. This can turn into an unhealthy cycle.

What can you do to improve your sleep?

  • Make sure you see sunlight or artificial light within 90 minutes of waking up, and get exposed to plenty of light during the day. This can help set and reset your body clock.

  • In the hours before sleeping, make sure your room is as dark as you can get it. Use dim lamps instead of bright lights.

  • Write down any worries and stresses that come up during the day. Allocate time during your waking hours (not too close to bedtime) to think about those problems, so that when it's time to sleep, your brain doesn't think that now is the time to address them.

What if it seems like nothing is working to improve my sleep?

If you've tried strategies to improve your sleep a few times and can't see a noticeable difference, it's easy to assume that they don't work. Remember that the stresses that are causing you to have sleep issues didn't happen overnight and took time to build up – in the same way, fixing it also doesn't happen overnight. It's important to have patience and consistently try to improve your sleep hygiene and habits.

After a couple of months, if you're noticing that your sleep still isn't improving, you could reach out to friends and family for support, or to medical professionals, such as your psychologist or GP.

What can I do now?

  • Improve your overall wellbeing by taking care of yourself.