Few things are more frustrating than staring at the ceiling above your bed, especially when, mere moments before, you couldn’t keep your eyes open. We all have lingering phases of sadness, stress, or anxiety that keep us up at night, and the lack of sleep makes the emotional distress worse. However, what if sleep is not the result of your situation, but rather the cause?
If this sounds like new information to you, don’t be surprised. There is still so much stigma associated with mental health issues that we often shy away from talking about it in compassionate ways. However, when it comes to healthy sleep, we have to keep the conversation open. If left unaddressed, sleep disorders can be dangerous, particularly to our mental health. Here are the major questions we should be asking, along with answers that can lead us to find some life-changing solutions.
Sleep is an essential part of maintaining good health and wellbeing. Getting a good night’s sleep helps protect both your mental and physical health, improves your quality of life and helps your body repair itself. These are key elements to maintain during any recovery journey.
So how much sleep do I need?
Each person’s sleep needs vary. On average, a person needs 8 hours sleep a night in order to function well during the day, however some people need as little as 5 hours – and some people might not be able to function well without 10 hours sleep a night.
If you think you have trouble with sleep, it is best to discuss this with your GP.
What happens if I don’t get enough sleep?
Side effects from chronic lack of sleep include:
- Increased symptoms of depression/anxiety
- Memory problems
- Tension headaches and migraines
- Short temper
- Blurred vision
- Reduced immune system
- Weight gain
- Increased blood pressure
- Reduced libido
- Reduced reaction time
- Reduced rate of recovery
Top tips for sleeping well
Experts agree that practising good ‘sleep hygiene’ can make an important contribution to getting a good night’s sleep. This is just another way of saying that you need to get into good habits:
- Go to bed and get up at the same time every day
- Avoid lying in
- Establish a bedtime routine – relax by reading a book or having a bath
- Make sure that your bed and bedding are comfortable
- Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol in the evening
- Don’t eat a heavy meal late at night
- Avoid exercise in the evening
- Keep your bedroom cool and dark – the ideal bedroom temperature is 18°C
- Ban TV and computers from the bedroom – the bright light can make you more awake
- Try to avoid napping during the day. If you do enjoy a daytime nap, schedule this for roughly the same time each day.
If you tend to wake up in the night and struggle to get back to sleep
After 15-20 minutes, get up and go into another room. Avoid doing anything too involved, such as work or housework, and resist the temptation to turn on the television.
Instead, try reading or listening to the radio. Try going back to bed 20-30 minutes later and, if you still have difficulties in getting to sleep or staying asleep try and do the same thing again.
WHY IS SLEEP IMPORTANT?
There are five stages of sleep, which occur in 90 minute cycles. This is what healthy, natural sleep generally looks like:
●Stage 1: Light sleep with slight muscle activity (roughly 5 minutes).
●Stage 2: Breathing and heart rate slows (roughly 50 minutes).
●Stage 3: Deep sleep begins (roughly 5 minutes).
●Stage 4: Very deep sleep where the brain produces delta waves (roughly 15 minutes).
●Stage 5: REM sleep where dreaming happens. Heart rate increases, but breathing continues to slow (roughly 15 minutes).
When this cycle is disrupted, your mental health suffers. You may wake up for many reasons, from an interruption in breathing to physical pain or discomfort. It’s pretty common to not even know you are waking up or that your sleep cycle is being disrupted. This is why having a good mattress to sleep on can actually impact your mental health. When your sleep cycle is repeatedly interrupted, your body may struggle with fatigue, while your mind could struggle with anxiety, paranoia, depression, and even hallucinations. Many of us track out sleep using fitness trackers and can identify when sleep is being disrupted.
WHAT ARE SOME LIFESTYLE CHANGES I CAN MAKE?
When it comes to being in charge of your own sleep, you can take some steps to settle in and sink into a deeper, longer experience.
●Eat a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, and whole foods, while avoiding processed foods. You might try keeping a food journal to document what you eat and when you eat it, then keep a sleep journal to log the amount and quality of sleep you get. You might start noticing some connections between food and sleep. For example, you might see that when you eat a lot of dairy, you’re tossing and turning at night more than usual. Or, you might realize that you have trouble falling asleep on days where you’ve eaten sugar or caffeine within a few hours of going to bed.
●Create a space that relaxes your mind and body. How would you describe your bedroom? An oasis of serenity and calm or a home office? A quiet place for meditation or a place to catch up on your favorite shows? We all multitask, so it is only natural that many of our rooms multitask as well — but the bedroom shouldn’t be one of them. You can transform your bedroom into the stuff dreams are made of by hanging light-reducing, blackout curtains; removing televisions, computers, and other electronic; purchasing soft, comfortable, allergen-free bedding; and pointing lights away from the bed and toward the ceiling.
If you’ve been struggling with difficulty sleeping, you may feel frustrated at the lack of relief. You might not feel like yourself, giving a less-than-sparking performing at work and in life. Many people shrug it off, accepting their sleepless fate as just a part of life. But your sleep matters — your mental health matters. Understanding what good sleep is can help you make lifestyle changes that bring peace of mind and a well-deserved long night’s rest.