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Why Is Sleep So Important For Our Mental Health?

Without sleep our mental and physical health inevitably deteriorates. Sleep is necessary to allow our body time for repair. Resting is restorative and sleep is the most restorative restful experience you can have.

Amount of sleep needed?

Sleep needs vary from person to person, and they change throughout the life cycle, though the National Sleep Foundation recommends 7 hours. Most adults, need 7-8 hours of sleep each night. Children have different sleep needs, depending on how old they are. Teenagers need 9 hours for brain performance, and many are getting just 6 hours.

Causes of sleep problems?

The commonest explanation for loss of sleep is stress. Basically, it’s because feeling stressed out increases your physiological and psychological arousal in ways that are incompatible with the state your body and mind need to enter relaxed, restorative sleep.

Any personal crisis can disturb sleep if it is sufficiently stressful. Common challenges include bereavement and loss, marriage breakdown or loss of employment, as well as trauma or personal injury. Any of these may be associated with temporary sleep loss.

Shift workers can find sleep very problematic. Shift work forces you to try to sleep when activities around you and your own "biological rhythms" signal you to be awake. The challenge is to overcome the body’s natural daily rhythm which tends to promote night time sleep and day time wakefulness.

Travel also disrupts sleep especially jet lag and traveling across several time zones. This can upset your biological or “circadian” rhythms.

There is a strong association between chronic sleep disturbance and other major mental health difficulties such as anxiety and depression. Some psychiatric disorders have fatigue as a major symptom. Included are: major and minor depressive disorder, dysthymia, mixed anxiety-depression, seasonal affective disorder and bipolar disorder.

Treating the mental health problem and sleep problem in tandem is often the most effective

So if you can’t relax after a difficult day, good quality sleep is bound to be elusive. Adding insult to frustration, if you sleep poorly at night, there’s a good chance that you’ll be more reactive to stress the next day. Wakeful performance is hindered by sleep deprivation.

What Helps

  • Develop a regular bedtime and keep a regular sleep/wake schedule.

  • Allow yourself extra time before bed to relax and unwind.

  • Start a journal, write down worries and plans for the next day.

  • It’s also wise to develop a relaxing pre-sleep ritual - which might include, taking a warm bath or having a soothing cup of caffeine-free tea.

  • Create a good sleeping environment.

  • Be aware that the habits of your sleep partner and their different sleep preferences, often becomes your problem too.

  • The foundation of good sleep is a good bed base with the right mattress.

  • Minimize distractions such as noise and light.

  • Bright lights and flat screens signal wakefulness and the brain is likely to respond accordingly.

  • Restful sleep is more likely in a darkened room and is more easily achieved at a slightly cool temperature.

  • Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcoholic drinks four to six hours before bed.

  • Avoid large meals and beverages late at night or before sleep.

  • Don’t exercise too late in the day rather take regular exercise during the day.

  • Don’t take a nap after 3pm.

  • Try going to bed ten minutes earlier each evening for a week; this will ensure that you’re getting enough sleep.

Having a mindful and restful approach to sleep will signal to the brain that it is in for a much needed rest. Our brain and body could be crying out for that balm. Studies find that the less people sleep, the more likely they are to be overweight or obese, develop diabetes, and prefer eating food high in calories and carbohydrates.

When you lack sleep you are more likely to make bad decisions and take more risks, resulting in poor performance at work or at school. For many of us, it may simply be the case of making small lifestyle or attitude adjustments.

Certain therapies like CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) teaches us to recognize and alter dysfunctional beliefs and attitudes about sleep.

I hope this post will encourage you to take sleep seriously and to “Enjoy the heavy honey dew of slumber.” Shakespeare

If like the majority of those who suffer sleep problems, you are not able to relax at night due to stress or depression, counselling can really help. Call Pauline at 087 6203371.

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