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Mental Health Mondays: Can't sleep? Here are some tips to finally wake up feeling rested

More people are struggling to fall and stay asleep as pandemic stress carries on, but here are ways to put those fears aside and sleep peacefully.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Since the start of the pandemic, people have struggled more with falling and staying asleep.

"There is a huge problem with sleep disturbance right now, because of not having routines, not being able to get physical activity," said counselor Stephaine Schell, MS, NCC.

She said the stress many are harboring due to the pandemic plays a big role, too.

"Sleep is a very vulnerable place, so if you have just experienced something that says 'you're not safe,' your body's not going to want to sleep because it doesn't feel like you can," she said.

We have to sleep. Humans need sleep to survive, function on a daily basis and maintain mental health.

"Sleep is the time that our brains process and store what we've done throughout the day," said Schell.

So for those of us not sleeping well, it's like we're constantly loading but never complete.

"We have this [set] amount of cognitive space to spend on thinking about different things throughout our day," said Schell. "So if you don't get sleep, a good chunk of this space that you have is taken up for that thinking."

It takes 7 to 10 hours of sleep a night to function best.

Schell said having a bedtime routine helps achieve that goal, but that shouldn't include scrolling through your phone or reading in bed.

"Our brains establish [zones] so your bed, you want your brain to say 'this is for sleeping,' not 'this is for reading' or 'this is for other activities,'" said Schell.

A bedtime routine looks different for everyone.

Some people sleep with sleep masks to help block out light.

Others need background noise, like music, a podcast or white noise to fall asleep.

Your doctor may suggest a supplement like melatonin if you can't get to sleep easily.

Try to go to bed around the same time every night.

Keep your bedroom cool, and try your best to relax.

Schell said focusing on your sleep hygiene and routine can make all the difference.

But if you absolutely can't fall asleep, get up and go do something. Laying in bed awake for hours will only make it harder to fall back asleep.

"If you're used to not functioning at your best you're gonna think that that is your best," said Schell. "I just don't think people know how good they can feel."