Sleep- It’s something everyone does, yet most of us get too little or too much of it. So how does sleep directly affect our mental health and correlate with mental health illnesses?
Sleep plays a very important role in our overall health. It's the time for our bodies to repair themselves, recharge the mind leaving us energized, alert, and focused when we wake up. It helps strengthen the immune system to fight diseases and infections, improve memory, moods, and many other benefits. Without proper sleep there can be a vast number of negative side effects both mentally and physically.
Research shows that sleep has a bidirectional relationship with mental health. Meaning that bad sleep can contribute to the development, or worsening of a mental health illness and while having a mental health illness can be one of the factors to poor sleep.
There are more than 70 types of sleep disorders that exist. Poor sleep and insomnia (the most common sleeping disorder) is often connected to depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD, and other mental health illnesses.
So how do we improve our sleep and sleeping habits?
Experts believe that many people learn insomnia but they can learn how to sleep better by performing better sleeping habits and rituals. Sleep hygiene composes of habits which can increase sleep duration, ritual sleeping hours, and improved quality of sleep.
Some sleep hygiene habits include:
- Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day in order to get at least 7 hours of sleep for adults.
- Avoiding daytime naps longer than 30 minutes.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine before bedtime (these lead to increased heart rate).
- Making sure the bedroom is quiet, neatly organized, and dark. Using our beds for only sleep or sex.
-Avoiding screen time an hour before bed. A great alternative is reading a book or magazine.
Healthy eating patterns
- Drinking enough water throughout the day.
- Limit the amount of refined sugar and processed foods. Stick to eating whole heathy nutrient enriched foods.
-Avoid eating 2-3 hours before bed.
-Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine past dinner time.
- Try to be active outside when there is sunlight for an hour or more during the day even if it's going for a walk.
- Regular exercise improves sleep and energy throughout the day. According to experts, aerobic exercises are the most helpful when it comes to sleep because these exercises release endorphins to keep us awake during the day and then they settle at night near bedtime hours.
- Meditation and deep breathing exercises.
OTC and Prescription medications
- It's important to consult with a doctor or therapist before considering what medications and OTC products to consume and weigh out any side effects before making a decision to take them.
-Medications can be beneficial under different circumstances and medical conditions per individual.
-Psychotherapy. This is a basic term for talking with a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other mental health practitioner. It's meant to help better understand and learn about one's mental health condition to discover the best coping mechanisms and treatment per individual.
Research is ongoing to better understand the relationship between sleep and mental health as they are both complex topics and have many different factors that connect with each other. The best thing we can do is take the knowledge from current research and put it to use by forming healthy habits to get better sleep, help combat mental health, and improve overall well being!