The Link Between Sleep and Mental Health
We all know that sleep is a very welcome daily ‘time out’ from the stress and busyness of the day. So, how ironic that our lives are now so busy that we are sleeping less and less (about 90 minutes less than in the, say, 1920’s) and thus getting less and less of a time-out from the stress and busyness.
If you’ve ever struggled to get through the day after a night of tossing and turning, you might be well-acquainted with the disruptive effects of sleep deprivation. Feeling moody, irritable, angry, stressed and like you want to eat everything in your fridge? Yup, you’re tired AF.
Poor sleep can make it much more difficult to cope with even relatively minor stress. Daily hassles can turn into major sources of frustration. If someone bumps into you accidentally or messes up your order at a restaurant, you might explode, whereas, well-rested, you might have just blown it off. Poor sleep itself can even turn into a source of stress. You might know that you need to get a good night's sleep, but then find yourself worrying that you won't be able to fall or stay asleep each night.
A few recent studies have shown that there is clear evidence that sleep deprivation has a negative effect on emotion and performance. A night of restful sleep is thought to ‘reset’ brain reactivity in order to prepare for emotional challenges the next day. While you’re getting shut-eye, your brain is recharged, restored and wiped clean(ish), so you can tackle a new day with new stresses and issues to tackle.
Now, while lack of sleep has long been known to be a consequence of many psychiatric conditions, more recent views suggest that sleep can also play a causal role in both the development and maintenance of different mental health problems (think stress, depression, anxiety, ADHD). In other words, sleep problems can lead to changes in mental health, but mental health conditions can also worsen problems with sleep.
So how can we ensure we get enough rest? Here are some tweaks you can try on the daily. If they don’t work, perhaps see a specialist who might be able to suggest some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy approaches.
- Exercise regularly so you’ll be physically tired come bedtime, but try not to work up a sweat too close to sleep as that will leave you too hyped.
- Avoid caffeinated tea and coffee too close to bed, as this will, of course, have you amped and ready to go. Alcohol is also not a happy sleep partner because it will either hold you in a very light or interrupted state of sleep.
- Try to keep a routine, going to sleep and wake up at the same time each day so your body knows what to expect.
- Only use your bed for sleep – so you can associate the space with that (and some other activity that starts with an ‘s’ )
- Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine that lets you unwind and sends a signal to your brain that it's time to sleep. We love a good bath, pillow spray, reading a few pages of your favourite book and writing down any to-do’s in a notebook that might boggle down your mind when you turn the lights out.
- If you can't sleep, don't worry about it. Get up and do something relaxing like listening to music or reading until you feel sleepy.
- Avoid electronic devices late at night - such as computers, mobiles, tablets and so on; the bright light can be overly stimulating and keep you awake.