Psychological health benefits of sleeping
Sleep is a naturally recurring state of mind and body, characterised by an altered consciousness — a ‘down time’ in which we spend about a third of our lives. It is a process where majority of the brain get to relax.
Difficulties sleeping and mental health problems are both public health concerns in their own right, with each having a substantive impact on both individuals and society as a whole. Sleep is as important to our health as eating, drinking and breathing. It allows our bodies to repair themselves and our brains to consolidate our memories and process information. Poor sleep is linked to physical problems such as a weakened immune system and mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Therefore, it begs the question, what really is the relationship between sleep and mental health? And if so, are the interventions designed to improve sleep also improve mental health? This relationship may well be documented, with numerous reviews testifying to a robust link between the two, but it is equally impossible to determine if the effects are bidirectional in nature.
Sleep And Mental Health
We develop resilience and learn to cope when life constantly throws up challenges and difficulties. Sleep is especially challenging in shift based work, and in safety-critical industries like the railway, so it’s even more important to make sure we get the right amount of good quality sleep. In essence having enough sleep cannot be understated in enabling our resilience. It is in many respects a built in biological ability to bounce back. As mentioned earlier, although the relationship between sleep and mental health is not clearly understood, it is believed that a good night’s sleep helps foster both mental and emotional resilience. Sleep gives the brain some ‘down time’ to process all of this information and store it in our memory banks. This way, it is available and accessible when it is needed. Chronic sleep disruptions set the stage for negative thinking, depression, anxiety and emotional vulnerability.
Improving Sleep Behaviour
Health: It is well known that poor health affects sleep and vice versa. Mental health problems like Depression and anxiety, both debilitating disorders often are enablers of sleep problems. It’s important to get any health concerns addressing both mental and physical symptoms as soon as possible. Procrastinating may be dire for one’s long term prognosis.
Environment: Temperature, noise levels and light all play a part in determining one’s sleep. If you find yourself experiencing poor sleep, try keeping a sleep diary to see if there are patterns which can help identify a problem. Also where one sleeps is important, and the bedroom and bed should be mainly a place associated with sleep. In particular watching TV, playing with phones or screens, or eating in bed can all affect the quality of sleep.
Attitude: It’s easy to get to sleep when one is able to relax, and let go of concerns. Due to life’s stressors it is common to have a night lying awake with worry. Just before sleep one could try to wind down, be less stimulated, and relax. Admittedly, it is be harder these days … raising children, traffic, political instability, unemployment, but relaxation techniques, such as a warm bath, music or mindfulness practice can all help. If sleeping is a problem, it is always best to get up, perhaps make a warm pap, and then try again when you feel sleepier. It can be tempting to turn on the TV or phone screen but this may stimulate you thus making it harder.
Lifestyle: What you eat and drink can affect your sleep. Stimulants like caffeine can make it harder to sleep, and a heavy or sugary meal close to bedtime can make sleep uncomfortable. Alcohol might seem to help you get to sleep, but it reduces the quality of sleep later. Taking exercise during the day is also a good way to aid sleep, but exercise releases adrenaline so exercising during the evening may be less helpful.
A Warning: Often the above basic techniques can improve one’s sleep. But, if you believe the inability to sleep,
• has disrupted life’s functioning maybe at home, work or even driving
• been elevated to a clinical disorder like Insomnia
the assistance of a sleep psychologist should be sought. Be prepared that the sleep problems can indicate other health issues. Treatment of the sleep and probable mental health problems can help address both symptoms and causes, leading to quicker recovery.