Sleep Problems and Mental Health
Have you ever noticed that when you haven’t had a good night’s sleep, you end up seeing more irritable, stressed, worried or feeling down? Maybe you are sat there thinking “my sleep is normal and there’s nothing wrong with my mental health”. But since the lockdown began, have you noticed a shift in your sleeping patterns – 2am is a perfectly normal time to still be awake, right? This shift in your sleeping pattern is most likely a subconscious result of the stress and anxiety you have experienced since the outbreak of Covid-19, and it is perfectly normal!
Now imagine dealing with that for days, months or years on end – sounds like torture, right? It is no surprise that how well we sleep has a direct impact on our physical and mental health. In fact, sleep problems like insomnia are common symptoms of many mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, ADHD and schizophrenia. In a case study, up to 90 percent of adults with depression experience sleep problems.
Did you know, there are more than 70 different types of sleep disorders, ranging from insomnia to narcolepsy?
What are they key points you need to remember about sleep problems?
- Sleep problems are more likely to affect patients with psychiatric disorders than people in the general population.
- Sleep problems may increase risk for developing particular mental illnesses, as well as result from such disorders.
- Treating the sleep disorder may help alleviate symptoms of the mental health problem.
There are many different types of tiredness, from physical to mental exhaustion. If prolonged, they will all lead to an eventual burn out with serious ramifications – either to yourself, or those around you. There are so many studies showing the impact that sleep disruption has on the body, if I was to post all the examples, reading this blog would put you to sleep so quickly that it would become famous as the cure for insomnia! If you are curious and want to learn more, a quick google search will show everything you may want to know.
In short, insomnia has been associated with increased risk of suicidal thoughts, inflammation, heart disease, respiratory issues, hypertension and chronic pain. There is a Yin and Yang in the body between the systems that promote both sleep and wakefulness. For most, insomnia results from hyperactivity while in the wakeful state and an inability to switch this off when required.
How do I solve my sleep issues?
A lot of your sleep issues can be resolved by working on your sleep hygiene:
1. Create a sleep schedule and stick to it – if you go to bed at 9pm on a Tuesday, make sure you’re doing that every other day too. Same for whatever time you choose to wake up too
2. Avoid stimulants in the evening – if you know that caffeine turns you into a twitchy night owl, don’t drink it after 6pm. The same goes for alcohol, cheese or any other things that you know have an adverse effect on your body
3. Avoid naps in the day – unless you have the abilities of a sloth and can sleep on command, try not to nap during the day, or limit them to no longer than 30 minutes.
4. Stop using electronic devices roughly an hour before bed - The blue light emitted by your electronic screen restrains the production of melatonin, the hormone that controls your sleep-wake cycle (aka circadian rhythm).
5. Use your bed ONLY for sleep and sex – create this association in your mind and it will help you psychologically prepare to sleep whilst you are in bed. If you are not able to fall asleep, get up out of bed and only return when you’re ready to try sleep again.
6. Create a sleep-promoting environment – have blackout curtains; spray lavender essential oil on your pillows; use a SAD lamp to create an artificial sunset; get a gravity blanket; keep the room nice and cool; play whale music and ocean sounds through the night. Basically, whatever helps relax you and encourages a more restful sleep for you, do that!
7. Take sleeping pills – whether you choose to use the herbal options of Nytol or Melissa Dream tablets, or opt for the stronger prescribed medication, there is something to help everyone. If you’re not sure what medicine is best for you, speak to your doctor. Alternatively, visit your local health and nutrition store. The staff there are typically trained on sleep problems and can help advise of a non-medicinal option for you.
8. Try Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) – this is a great therapy focusing on mindfulness and techniques to treat anxiety or any other underlying stressors that are affecting your sleep. CBT is available on the NHS and privately as well as there being many courses online. If you want to know more about it, visit https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/cognitive-behavioral-therapy-insomnia
9. Try use Light therapy - Also known as phototherapy, this can be specifically helpful in people with a condition called “delayed sleep phase syndrome”.
10. Try Yoga Nidra or other forms of meditation – Using relaxation techniques, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation and mindfulness can help people become aware of their body and decrease anxiety about going to sleep. This is exactly what Yoga Nidra does and apps such as Insight Timer have dedicated sleep meditations helping you to relax the mind and fall into a peaceful sleep.
Can My Insomnia Be Cured?
Absolutely! Though it may not be easy, curing insomnia often means improving your sleep hygiene and establishing habits that are more conducive to good sleep. As we all know, habits (especially involving routines you follow every day), can be tough to break.
Whether you try one of the above options, or all of them, they are guaranteed to influence your quality of sleep. So why not give it a go and let everyone know how you get on?
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