The Importance of Sleep for Mental Health
Sleep is essential for the physical wellness of the body, but also has a significant impact on a person’s mental health too. Professor Freeman and his colleagues at the University of Oxford believe that the two-way relationship between sleep problems and poor mental health can result in a downward spiral. Sleep helps maintain cognitive skills and emotional regulation, and without it, a person can suffer from anxiety and depression. Finding sleep is also vital for tackling any mental health issues we may be facing already. Sleep helps our brain rest and recharge, boosting our mood and giving us the energy we need to face the day.
If you are concerned about how your sleeping patterns may be affecting your mental health, then please keep reading. As a therapist, I understand the needs of the body and how this impacts the way we feel and think. By working towards getting a better night’s rest, you can start to make positive changes for both your body and mental health.
Impact of Insomnia
Insomnia is very damaging for a person, not only does it prevent the body from getting the sleep it needs to repair and stay healthy, but it can also cause serious mental health issues. This common sleep disorder can make it hard for a person to fall asleep, stay asleep or even cause them to wake up too early and be unable to fall back asleep. One study in Michigan found that insomnia was associated with a four-fold higher risk of depression three years later. A review of research also discovered that insomnia preceded the development of not only depression but also bipolar and anxiety disorders.
If you suffer from short-term (acute) insomnia, often lasting days or weeks, it can be the result of stress or a traumatic event. By tackling the root of the issue, you can work towards resolving your insomnia. Speak to a therapist about your trauma and work together to help you accept and overcome what has happened. If you are suffering from stress due to work or home life, try and think of ways you can remove this from your life. It could be as simple as learning to be more organised or something which requires therapeutic support. Chronic insomnia lasts for a month or more and could be associated with medical conditions or medications, so it is best to approach your GP for advice.
Sleep is vital for our mental health, as it provides our brain with the time to rest and reset. One study indicated that a good night’s rest might reset the brain reactivity to prepare the person for the emotional challenges of the day ahead. If we don’t get enough sleep, we can be irritable, and people can mistake us for being ‘moody’. In reality, we are suffering from a low mood as a result of not letting our brain rest. But the reactions of other people can impact the way we view ourselves, letting our depression and anxiety take a tighter hold.
Emotional preparation is vital for developing our emotional intelligence, which is our ability to understand, use and manage our emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, overcome challenges and empathise with others. Without these vital skills at our disposal, it can be hard to navigate life and find happiness in ourselves. Therefore, we must break the vicious cycle of insufficient sleep and depression, finding ways to improve our sleep and keep depression and anxiety at bay.
How to Improve Your Sleep
You don’t have to suffer from insomnia or poor sleep forever. There are ways you can improve your sleep and start getting back to a healthier lifestyle. I recommend:
- Establishing a regular sleep-wake cycle: try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. Your body will fall into a natural routine, and it will help you have a deep sleep.
- Ensuring you have a comfortable sleeping space: If you fall easier with noise, try different apps on your phone. Alternatively, make sure any noise is blocked out if you find it quicker to fall asleep to silence. Alter light and temperature to suit your needs too.
- Reducing your use of stimulants: this means consuming less caffeine, nicotine and alcohol near bedtime.
- Trying not to drink as much liquid closer to bedtime: This minimises your chances of waking up to go to the toilet.
- Avoiding going to bed until you are drowsy: this shows you are ready to sleep and spend less time laying in bed awake.
- Avoiding the use of electronic devices late at night: this includes computers, mobiles and tablets as the bright light can keep you awake.
The Benefits of Therapy
If we continue to ignore our body’s need for sleep, then these moments of low mood can become long-lasting and develop into severe mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. As mentioned, insomnia and lack of sleep can be a response to a traumatic event. This could be a car accident, a family death or even a missing pet. By seeking therapy to work through the thoughts and emotions brought up by this event, you can accept and understand your emotional responses. As a result, this can impact your sleep, allowing you to fall asleep easier and quicker, for longer too.
However, sometimes, it can be hard to kick your depression to the curb even when you get your sleeping pattern under control. Depression or anxiety can be rooted deep within us, interwoven with a traumatic event or repressed memories or emotions. Rather than letting your mental health have an impact on your happiness and physical health, you need to seek out the support your need and deserve. Therapy can help you face your trauma in a safe space, allowing you to be open and honest about how you think and feel as a result of what you have encountered. Coming to accept this trauma over time, will allow you to face a life without depression or anxiety weighing you down.
Please take a look at my website to learn more about my services as a therapist and how I can support your mental health needs. When we suffer from poor sleep, we may already be facing mental health issues, or be on the path to developing them. By seeking out support, you can help regain control over your mental health and happiness and look towards a brighter future.