Sleep and Mental Health
Sleep is a crucial part of our lives, it is the period where our body undertakes repair and growth, and quality sleep is an essential factor for optimal cognitive performance, mood and overall functioning. During a typical night of sleep, an individual goes through four to six sleep cycles that range from 70 to 120 minutes each. Both the brain and body experience distinct changes during these cycles that correspond to individual stages of sleep.
Impaired sleep can have significant implications for our function when we are awake, when especially sleep deprived, a person may inadvertently nod off for a few seconds, which is known as a microsleep. This can have disastrous effects, particularly if we are driving a car. Sleep deprivation may worsen symptoms of existing mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, lowering mood or heightening anxious feelings.
Sleep is often overlooked when people take stock of their mental health and general wellbeing. The phrase ‘sleep hygiene’ may be foreign to you, it may not, but sleep hygiene are behaviours we can engage in to put ourselves in the position for restful, restorative sleep.
However, there can be too much of a good thing: oversleeping can be just as detrimental as not getting enough sleep. Research on sleep length and quality suggests that too much sleep on a regular basis can increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and death. Oversleeping is generally considered to be anything above 9 hours of sleep per day. If you’re oversleeping and experiencing sleepiness during the waking hours, you could be experiencing hypersomnia.
If you notice any changes at all in your sleep, contact either your GP or a registered psychologist.
Ways To Improve Both Sleep and Mental Health
Mental health conditions can disrupt sleep, and lack of sleep can affect mental health. This multifaceted relationship makes for complex connections between sleep and psychiatric disorders, but it also means that treatment for both issues can go hand-in-hand. Steps to improve sleep may even form part of a preventative mental health strategy.
While treatment plans can vary considerably, some approaches that may be considered to help with sleep and mental health are described below:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) describes a type of counseling known as talk therapy. It works by examining patterns of thinking and working to reformulate negative thoughts in new ways.
Different types of CBT have been developed for specific problems such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. CBT for Insomnia has a proven track record in reducing sleeping problems.
Whether and how types of CBT can be combined or sequenced to address both sleep and mental health problems is subject to ongoing research, but for many patients, help from a trained counselor or psychologist to reframe their thinking can meaningfully improve both their sleep and mental state.
For further information on CBT please go to our CBT page.
Improve Sleep Habits
A common cause of sleeping problems is poor sleep hygiene. Stepping up sleep hygiene by cultivating habits and a bedroom setting that are conducive to sleep can go a long way in reducing sleep disruptions.
Examples of steps that can be taken for healthier sleep habits include:
- Having a set bedtime and maintaining a steady sleep schedule.
- Finding ways to wind-down, such as with relaxation or mindfulness techniques, as part of a standard routine before bedtime.
- Avoiding alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine in the evening. Caffeine has quite a long half life and can interrupt sleep for many hours after consuming it.
- Dimming lights and putting away electronic devices for an hour or more before bed.
- Getting regular exercise and natural light exposure during the daytime.
- Listen to pink, white or brown noise if you have trouble with silence, you can get these noise generators as an app on most smartphones.
- Maximizing comfort and support from your mattress, pillows, and bedding.
- Ensure that the bed is used only for sleeping or sex. It can be helpful to ensure you don’t do anything else like watch movies or any study or work in the bed, to ensure you don’t associate the bed with tasks that require you to be alert and cognitively active.
- Ensure the room is cool. Around the 20 -25 degree mark is a good zone. If the room is too hot, this can interrupt our core body temperature, which changes throughout the night. Also, sleep naked where you can, this can improve core body temp regulation, and research suggests that regular skin to skin contact can improve intimacy with a romantic partner.
- Blocking out excess light and sound that could disrupt sleep. Any light source, even the red dot of a TV’s infrared remote can interfere with melatonin production, the hormone involved in sleep-wake cycles. Aim for pitch black, if you can’t, you might try a sleep eye mask.
Finding the best routines and bedroom arrangement may take some trial and error to determine what’s best for you, but that process can pay dividends in helping you fall asleep quickly and stay asleep through the night.