It is no surprise that sleep directly affects one’s mental state. Perhaps you’ve seen how parents are often cranky from waking up in the middle of the night when raising children. Or felt unable to concentrate at work the morning after not getting much sleep. There is a definitive reason why the phrase “woke up on the wrong side of the bed” exists. Sleep is closely associated with emotional and mental health because it has proven linked to various conditions. Several examples include anxiety, stress, bipolar disorder, and depression. In this blog post we will explore the importance of sleep, its effects on one’s mental wellbeing along with some helpful tips on how to get that all important shut eye.
Importance of our sleep cycles
Maintaining a healthy and consistent sleep cycle is critical to mental health. During periods of rest, brain activity fluctuates, going up and down during different phases that encompass the cycle. The brain’s activity slows down in non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. However, there are still short bursts of energy. Conversely, during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, brain activity increases, which is why this stage often entails intense dreaming. Every step of the sleep cycle plays a role in overall brain health. They allow alternating levels of activity in the brain to improve thinking, learning, and memory.
REM sleep and mental health
When provided with sufficient sleep, particularly REM sleep, the brain is allowed to process emotions. This represents the final phase of the cycle in which shallow, rapid breathing occurs, along with a significant rise in blood pressure and heart rate. While REM is ongoing, essential dopamine, serotonin, and adrenaline hormones are inactive. This allows memories to be properly resolved and processed. During sleep, the brain evaluates and remembers things. A lack of sleep damages the consolidation of happy emotions. This influences overall mood and is tied to several mental health disorders. If left untreated, the accumulation leads to a cycle of over arousal, leading to chronic insomnia.
Circadian rhythm represents the 24-hour cycle that encompasses the body’s internal clock. It ticks away in the background at all times to carry out functions and processes essential to ones wellbeing. The sleep-wake cycle is a traditional circadian rhythm. Various systems in the body follow these rhythms in synchronization with the brain. Environmental cues, including light, primarily influence a master clock. This is the reason doctors associate circadian rhythm with the day and night. With proper alignment, circadian rhythm promotes restorative sleep. If thrown off balance, it leads to insomnia. In humans, circadian rhythm coordinates physical and mental systems. For instance, proteins are produced in the digestive system to match the timing of meals at typical times throughout the day. Furthermore, the endocrine system is responsible for regulating hormones to fulfil everyday energy needs.
Maintaining quality sleep
Whilst you may not always be able to control the factors interfering directly with your sleep, there are many small habits you can incorporate into your daily life to improve it. Here are some suggestions to help you get you sleep cycles back on track;
1. Keep a Schedule
Always stick to a sleep schedule in which you rest for a maximum of 8 hours and at least 7. Make sure you are going to bed and getting up at the same time each day as much as possible (this includes weeks). Staying consistent reinforces circadian rhythm and the sleep-wake cycle. If you fail to rest within 15 minutes of bed, engage in a relaxing activity. Try listening to music that soothes you, or read a book. When you’re tired, attempt to sleep again. Keep repeating as necessary, but always maintain identical schedules for sleeping and waking up.
2. Watch what you eat
Do not go to bed with an empty stomach or a full stomach. Avoid large, heavy meals within the hours leading up to rest. Alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine all demand caution as well. The heightened stimulation from nicotine and caffeine interferes with sleep. Although alcohol may make you sleepy at first, it disrupts sleep later. Alcohol is a suppressant which at the time you consume it, can make you feel better by dulling down your emotions. Alcohol stays in your system (blood stream) for up to 12 hours which is why you may feel anxious and experience racing thoughts when you wake up.
3. Avoid daytime naps
Taking naps throughout the day often harms your sleep. Limit these daytime resting activities to no more than an hour, and ensure you never nap in the evening.
4. Perform physical activity
Physical activity on a routine schedule helps with sleep, but do not engage in this during the hours leading up to bedtime. I recommend a brisk walk after your evening meal to help with digestion and peace of mind.
5. Manage problems
Attempt to resolve your concerns or worries before rest. Write down your thoughts and set them aside for the next day. Stress management helps as well. Stay organized, delegate tasks, and set priorities. Meditation can work to ease anxiety. I personally recommend journaling your thoughts daily, always ending on a positive and practicing gratitude. Contact a fully certified CAM Transformational Coaching Specialist who specialises in stress management, who will give you tools and strategies to ease stress and anxiety.
6. Know when to speak to a doctor
Consistent sleeping problems, even when attempting the above steps, demand a medical practitioner’s attention. By having a professional identify and treat any underlying causes, you may have, you’ll be able to get the sleep you truly deserve.
8 out of every 10 clients I work with struggle with sleep, we work together to take the first steps to manage and create healthily sleep routines. Knowing how important sleep is to our mental health can not only educate us, but can help us to understand the impact of poor sleep has on our mind and body.
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Hayley Austin FACCPH
CAM Transformational Coaching Specialist
Trainer Of NLP, Clinical Hypnotherapy, EFT and Life Coaching
Author And Educator