Mental Health & Sleep
Sleep has an enormous influence on our overall mental health. Put simply, when you have a good sleep you feel happy and when you don’t you feel unhappy. Often we find ourselves in a perpetual loop of bad sleep caused by long work hours, blue light emission from our many devices, stressful busy lifestyles, relationship issues and financial worries. This can lead to insomnia which can sometimes be hard to break out of. Sometimes it is very hard to pause and put our mental health first with this mounting pressure on us. Some of the more common mental health issues perpetuate sleep problems like these:
Anxiety - something we all deal with, some of us on a daily basis. Anxiety can cause our minds to race and prevent us from falling asleep.
Depression - a sign of depression can often be low energy and a tendency to sleep in or take long naps during the day. Depression can also lead to insomnia which is a serious stressor on our overall health and wellbeing.
Mood disorders - these can manifest themselves as very high highs and very low lows rather than maintaining a stable emotional balance. We all feel much more emotional if we have not slept well the night before and are more inclined to feel angry or sad.
ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) - this disorder involves a significantly reduced attention span and increased over-activity. Many sufferers report waking up easily during the night, having difficulty falling asleep and feeling tired during the day.
The relationship between mental health and sleep is complex but we do know a lack of sleep can play havoc with our emotions and mental wellbeing. Sleep scientist Matthew Walker carried out important research to try and find out why this is by using MRI brain scanning on two groups of people. One group slept normally at night, the other group stayed awake all night. They were then each shown images that were designed to evoke emotion the following day and their brain reactions recorded. The research found that the amygdala, the part of the brain primarily responsible for emotion, fight-or-flight response and memory, showed an incredible 60% increase in activity in the underslept group compared to the well slept group. The well slept group showed that their amygdala was much more controlled, only showing a small amount of activity in response to the images.
Whilst sleep is not the be all and end all answer to our mental health issues, having good sleep habits can be very effective in curtailing their influence on our brains and bodies.
Regular exercise - exercise naturally de-stresses us and reduces anxiety. It can wear us out so when it comes to bedtime we drift off easily.
Reduce caffeine - research shows that the half-life of coffee is around 5 hours meaning that after 5 hours half of the caffeine remains in our bloodstream which can affect our ability to go and stay asleep. Having coffee early on in our day will help prevent this interference.
Meditation - meditation is a great way to calm your mind just before bed and away from our screens. Just a few minutes will reduce anxiety and prepare us for a good sleep.
Cool bedroom - a bad night’s sleep when room or external temperatures are high is a common problem. A cool bedroom is optimal for good sleep - around 15-22 degrees Celsius or 60-72 degrees Fahrenheit is best for adults.
Avoid alcohol - alcohol is terrible for sleep quality and its diuretic properties can keep us up all night peeing.
Have a regular sleep schedule - this is one of the most overlooked habits but is one of the most powerful. Having a set bedtime and waking up schedule every day (not just weekdays) allows our bodies to adjust and get used to a habitual sleep schedule.
Reduce light and noise - an obvious and easily-achieved habit. Having a SLEEP MASK and EARPLUGS will prevent any disturbances and help you achieve optimal sleep quality.
No screens - putting in place a rule of no screens 2 hours before sleeping will significantly help regulate sleep patterns. Screens emit blue light which inhibits melatonin production, the hormone that helps us go to sleep. Furthermore, looking at screens increases our anxiety and therefore cortisol levels as our brains try to process the myriad of information coming from them.
Daylight exposure - ensuring we get enough vitamin D from sunlight is key to our general health but also proven to help us sleep deeper and longer.