Impact of Sleep on Mental Health
Ever notice, when you do not get enough sleep, your brain feels a little foggy? Or you struggle to at work and dealing with your coworkers? Or you tend to yell at your kids or partner? There is a good reason for that, sleep is more vital to our health than most people would like to admit to.
Besides sleep impacting one’s mental capacity, it can also impact mental health as lack of sleep can increase symptoms of anxiety and depression, and decrease your ability to cope with daily life stressors. In fact, not only are they finding a positive correlation between mental health and sleep, they have noticed there is also a cause and effect. (Yes, just because there is a positive correlation between two things, doesn’t automatically mean there is cause and effect). In an article by Harvard Health Publishing, they stated:
“Chronic sleep problems affect 50% to 80% of patients in a typical psychiatric practice, compared with 10% to 18% of adults in the general U.S. population. Sleep problems are particularly common in patients with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).”
If you are finding yourself struggling to deal with stress, having increase anxiety or depression symptoms, or feeling like you have “fog brain” more often than not, check your sleep quantity and quality. If it is not as healthy as it needs to be for you, check out the list below of just a few common tips to help you improve the quality and quantity of your sleep.
Side note: There is not one perfect number for hours of sleep everyone needs, the average is between 7-9 hours. To find your best average will take some time to figure out. If you are struggling with 7, increase it to 8 or if 9 feels like too much, then decrease it a bit. It’s all about trial and error.
Not only is regular physical activities good for your physical health and disease prevention, it has been linked to better sleep quality and decreasing the time it takes to fall asleep. When is the best time of the day to exercise that will benefit sleep? That is up to your body and how it responds to exercise. For most, you will want to exercise earlier in the day and avoid doing it right before bed as it will make it hard for you to fall asleep. However, this is not the case for some as once, I had a client that exercising right before bed put him to sleep. In fact, here is a study showing some benefits to exercising at 8 p.m. or later for some. The only way to find what works for you is to try exercising at different times of the day and see how your body responds.
Side note: Besides physical health and sleep, regular exercise is a great tool to have in combating behavioral health issues like anxiety and depression. More on this later.
Keep a regular sleep schedule:
Consistency is key! You have heard this multiple times in regards to most things in life, so it stands for reason, it’s the same for sleep health. So, no matter what schedule you would like to keep, just keep it consistent, or within one or two hours of your normal wake-up or go-to-sleep time.
For those who are unable to keep a regular schedule due to working night shirts or rotating shift and struggle with sleep, may have what they call shift work sleep disorder. Here’s a good article on what it is and how to deal with it.
Try avoiding caffeine a few hours prior to bedtime:
Caffeine, we all know it’s a stimulant, that’s why many of us drink pop, coffee and energy drinks, we want to wake up and go. So why would you drink it prior to bed? If you are having issues sleeping, pay attention to when you are taking in caffeine and adjust as needed.
Side note: If you have ADHD, I would like you to really pay attention to how you respond to caffeine as it may be possible that some of you, well… your bodies may not play by this rule of caffeine as a stimulant.
Avoid nicotine and alcohol prior to bedtime:
I know about the claims that smoking can help some feel relaxed, but in reality, nicotine is a stimulant. In addition, I know alcohol can help put you to sleep, but it interferes with sleep and you will wake up more often during the night. In fact, a recent study showed that alcohol and tobacco intake within 4 hours of sleep increased sleep fragmentation in the associated night. Again, pay attention to when you are taking in nicotine and alcohol and adjust as needed.
Evaluate your bedroom environment:
Extreme temperatures, lights and sounds can impact sleep. To help increase sleep quality, find the optimal temperature for you and decrease lights and sounds in your room. For more on this topic, check out this article from the Sleep Foundation.
Side note: For those with anxiety, a little noise may be beneficial to help calm your ruminating brain. This one comes from personal experience. If leaving the TV on helps you fall asleep faster, just make sure you have it on a timer otherwise the light from the TV can interfere and wake you up later in the night.
Avoid naps during the day:
If you find yourself taking multiple hour naps during the day due to not sleeping well at night, please rethink that one. The more you sleep during the day, the more your quality of sleep decreases. If you need a nap, try sticking to 15-30 minutes. If that doesn’t work, try cutting them out for a while and see how your sleep quality and consistency does.
Try taking a hot bath right before bedtime:
Taking a hot bath, or shower, is another good technique to use to help induce relaxation which may help increase sleep. In addition, it actually will decrease our body temperatures afterwards which in turn, induces better sleep. For those who are looking for a little “me” time, this is a perfect activity but just make sure you lock the door so your kids or partner don’t interrupt.
Side note: If you are finding increasing your sleep is not helping you manage your stress, anxiety and/or depression symptoms, please seek out counseling to help you.