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How to manage sleep problems

Dr Saeema Ghafur, Clinical Psychologist and Founder of Psyma Mental Health Technologies Ltd, shares her thoughts on how to manage sleep problems as a GP.

Sleep is incredibly important for our health and performs an essential function in protecting our mental health, helping us to pay attention, learn, solve problems, be creative and make sense of our life.  

Most adults need between seven and eight hours of sleep each night.  If we don’t get a restful night we can feel under-par and exhibit a number of sleep deprivation symptoms such as lower energy levels, comfort food cravings, forgetfulness, irritability, grogginess, grumpiness and fatigue.

GPs make hundreds of complex judgments every day in appointments lasting just 10 minutes.  It’s a highly skilled, demanding and stressful role and related pressures and stress can in turn affect ability to get a good night’s time sleep. Subsequent fatigue can compromise performance and ability to deliver adequate care to patients as well as affecting long-term health and well-being.

Strategies to improve sleep

Investing time in improving sleep quality is one of the most important actions you can take to protect your health now and in the future.  To improve your sleep habits, it may help to:

  • Evaluate your room and make sure your bed, mattress and pillows are comfortable and supportive, your room is cool, quiet and as dark as possible.
  • Your bedside lamp, mobile phone all emit a glow that delays the natural night-time release of melatonin in your brain. Dim the light and avoid electronics 30 minutes before bedtime.
  • Get as much natural daylight as possible while awake.
  • Exercise regularly but not before bedtime.  It is one of the best science backed ways to improve sleep and health.
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and any other chemicals that interfere with sleep.
  • Keep regular wake and sleep times throughout the week.  This can help regulate your body’s clock and help you fall asleep and stay asleep at night.
  • Ease the transition from wake time to sleep with a relaxing activity such as taking a bath or reading a book. Avoid stressful activities before bedtime as they cause the body to secrete the stress hormone cortisol, which is associated with alertness.
  • Struggling to fall asleep can lead to frustration.  If you’re not asleep in 20 minutes, get up and do something relaxing until you are tired enough to sleep.

How to survive on little sleep

Sometimes a lack of sleep is inevitable for a variety of reasons, however, there are proactive strategies you can engage in to increase your alertness.

  • Drink water– Dehydration can increase fatigue so it’s important to drink plenty of water. Further, the resulting trips to the bathroom will increase your activity and keep you more alert.
  • Soak up the sun– Direct sun exposure in the morning can help reset your internal clock and give you a boost when you’re fading during the day. So try and sit near a window and if that’s not possible be sure to get outside during your lunch break.
  • Cut back on large meals– Avoid eating large meals, junk food or a lot of carbs. These foods can make you drowsy. Instead eat several lighter meals that are lean and contain plenty of protein.
  • Exercise- Being active can boost energy and adrenaline levels which can help you survive the day and also help you sleep better at night.

Looking after yourself isn’t a sign of weakness or lack of commitment to patient care, quite the contrary; it’s a vital part of being able to provide high quality clinical care to patients, safely, efficiently, and effectively.  You should seek help from your doctor or occupational health specialist if you have any concerns about fatigue and sleep problems.

GPDQ is partnered with Psyma to deliver mental health support services to GPDQ doctors and patients. Try the service here and start looking after your mental health today.