There is a reason it’s said that when someone is having a rough day it’s likely that they “woke up on the wrong side of the bed.” - As it turns out, there’s quite a bit of truth behind this colloquial saying as Sleep affects our physical and mental state.
It’s no secret that sleep plays an important role in good physical and mental health and that lack of sleep can have several implications. Sleep deprivation can leave you feeling irritable, restless and exhausted in the short-term, but it can also have serious long-term health consequences as well including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, anxiety, depression, and other conditions. Sleep is essential - It is as important to our bodies as eating, drinking and breathing, and is vital for maintaining good mental and physical health as it helps us to recover, recharge and refresh ourselves from exertion. This piece will look into the links between Sleep and our Mental Health while also providing some tips to better our sleep hygiene.
Sleep for the brain is like fuel for a vehicle. When the tank is full, we know we can get to where we need to be. But over time, the fuel tank doesn’t remain full and it lowers until all the fuel is gone and the vehicle stops. Without the fuel it needs, the vehicle is rendered useless. Our brains tend to work in a similar way, except that the brain’s fuel is sleep. Without proper sleep, our minds begin to gradually slow down and become unable to operate at their full potential. This happens until the mind becomes so deprived of the rest it needs that it reaches a point where it breaks down. And without the commander-in-chief acting accordingly, the rest of the body pays the price as well. Our sleep and Mental Health are closely interconnected. It’s no secret that sleep helps us function effectively every day and it is important in recharging the brain at the end of the day. When we have one bad night we immediately spot the effects almost immediately in the morning and through the day, irritability, a sense of heaviness in our heads, lack of patience and concentration etc. Long term sleep deprivation has serious health consequences including anxiety, depression and other serious mental illnesses. It is also important to understand that while sleep deprivation affects our psychological state and mental health, having trouble with our Mental health can also lead to troubles with sleep, insomnia or other sleep disorders. In other words, sleep problems can lead to changes in mental health, but mental health conditions can also worsen problems with sleep.
Sleep is extremely crucial for the physical upkeep of the body, but it also helps maintain cognitive skills, such as attention, learning, memory, and emotional regulation. Getting a good night’s sleep even underpins our ability to perceive the world accurately. Some research also suggests that going completely without sleep for 3 or more nights in a row results in perceptual distortions, hallucinations, and delusions which can alter our state of consciousness and impact our perception of the world around us. Additionally, research suggests that the relationship between sleep and mental health is complex. While 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.
Both sleep and Mental Health are complex issues affected by a multitude of factors, but, given their close association, there is strong reason to believe that improving sleep can have a beneficial impact on Mental Health and can be a component of treating many psychiatric conditions. A common cause of most of our sleeping problems is poor sleep hygiene. There are experts who believe that people learn insomnia, and can learn how to sleep better. Good "sleep hygiene" is the term often used to include tips like maintaining a regular sleep-and-wake schedule, using the bedroom only for personal uses, and keeping the bedroom dark and free of distractions like the computer or television. Stepping up sleep hygiene by cultivating healthy habits, building in a routine and a bedroom setting that are conducive to sleep can go a long way in reducing sleep disruptions and helping us to get the adequate rest that we need.
A few things which can help with improving our sleep patterns include:
Having a routine with a somewhat fixed bedtime every day to maintain a healthy and stable sleep schedule. It can also help to stick to a set of habits that help prepare you for rest each night such as taking a bath, reading a book, or practicing a few minutes of meditation to calm your body. Repeating this pattern every night can help set the tone for a good night’s sleep.
Finding ways to wind-down with relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, sleep stories, journaling as part of a standard routine before bedtime can help calm anxiety and counter racing thoughts.
Staying away from alcohol, tobacco, nicotine and caffeine in the evening - if you can give them up all together, that would be ideal. If you can’t do so immediately, avoiding them before bedtime definitely helps.
Dimming the lights and refraining from screen time at least an hour before bed is also proven to be very helpful. Additionally, blocking out excess light and sound that could disrupt sleep can also be helpful. Turning off your devices, avoiding watching television or playing on your phone at bedtime can make it a little easier to relax and settle down for sleep.
Getting some exercise (indoors or outdoors) and exposure to sunlight during the daytime is another highly recommended strategy to ensure you are able to get good sleep.
Limiting your napping through the day to 20-30 minutes as this can impact your ability to fall or stay asleep through the night.
It is important to keep in mind that sleep is not just 'time out' from our busy routine. Most of us need to sleep well to help our bodies recover from the day and to allow healing to take place but unfortunately when things become hectic, it is sleep that we are willing to sacrifice first to get things done. This is not an ideal situation as our bodies and minds need sleep to recharge and rejuvenate to help us face the demands and challenges which life throws at us. We have also seen that while Mental health conditions can disrupt sleep, and lack of sleep can also affect our Mental Health. This multifaceted relationship makes for complex connections between sleep and psychiatric disorders, but it also means that treatment for both issues can go hand-in-hand. Steps to improve sleep may even form part of a larger preventive Mental Health strategy and can go a long way in helping us take care of our Mental Health in addition to our physical health.
So remember, unlike the saying ‘You snooze, You lose’, the reality here is in fact quite the opposite - If you don’t snooze, you definitely lose, both in the short and long term!
Written by: Vedica Podar