Poor Sleep – Bad for Our Mental Health?
In our busy lives, the importance of taking care of ourselves can often be forgotten. No single example is more relevant than that of our sleeping habits! Good sleep is absolutely crucial to our physical and mental wellbeing. Having healthy sleeping patterns can greatly affect our day to day wellness and happiness.
Yet all too often, work, family and other life commitments can prevent us from getting seven or eight hours of shut-eye a night. We may find ourselves working into the night to finish a work task leftover from the day, being kept awake by our young children, or even just socializing and staying up late as a result.
In our daily list of to-do’s, sleep can be easily dismissed as something of little importance. However, recent research has argued that good sleep is the single most important component to how we function mentally.
Poor sleep can affect our mood
In one study, researchers found that a night of restful sleep can ‘reset’ the brain to better deal with emotional challenges. This is because sleep recharges our brains (and gives them a rest!) so that we can start the day afresh. For optimal brain functioning, we should aim to maintain regular sleep-wake patterns.
“Sleep deprivation and mental illnesses are closely linked. Those with existing mental health problems are, for example, more likely to experience insomnia and other sleep disorders. If you’re feeling blue, you might not expect lack of sleep to be the culprit – but research has suggested that sleep disorders are not merely symptoms of mental illness, but can actually cause them,” says Hanna Virt, a health blogger at 1 Day 2 Write and Next Coursework. So, if you are already experiencing depression and anxiety, a lack of sleep can worsen these illnesses. The risk of suffering from anxiety and depression increases with the severity of insomnia. People with insomnia are 10 times more likely to have clinical depression, and 17 times as likely to have clinical anxiety. Researchers have studied the link between poor sleep and mental illnesses again and again. They have always came to the same conclusion.
What is poor sleep?
Although the most common forms of sleep disorder are obstructive sleep apnea (sleep disruption) and insomnia (difficulty falling asleep), more than 70 disorders exist. You might also be aware of narcolepsy (falling asleep suddenly, extreme sleepiness) and various movement syndrome (unpleasant sensations that cause you to wake up fidgeting during the night). All sleep disorders have been linked to increased anxiety, depression and other mental health problems.
This is because sleep disorders disrupt our normal sleeping cycles. In any given night, a normal sleeper will cycle between two kinds of sleep every 90 minutes. These are ‘quiet’ sleep, and REM sleep.
“Quiet sleep has four sub-stages, as a sleeper becomes increasingly more relaxed and begins to sleep deeper and deeper. Their body temperature drops, and the heart rate and breathing slow. In the deepest phase, emotional and physical wellbeing is boosted,” explains Sebastian Adams, a journalist at Write My X and Brit Student.
In REM (Rapid Eye Movement), the sleeper begins to dream. This elevates body temperature, heart rate and breathing to the level of being awake. Yet, REM sleep is crucial to learning and emotional wellbeing in many ways. Whilst the exact workings of REM sleep are complex and not well understood, it is clear that sleep disruption or deprivation prevents the brain from functioning normally, repairing and renewing itself.
What can we do to fix it?
All sleep experts agree that the fundamentals to great sleep are a combination of lifestyle changes and behavioral strategies. At the more extreme phases of insomnia and sleep disorders, psychotherapy and prescription drugs may be prescribed.
However, it doesn’t have to come to that. By making lifestyle changes like limiting stimulants and depressants like alcohol, caffeine and nicotine (particularly around bed time), and exercising (during the day – not at night!) can all have positive effects on our quality of sleep.
Good ‘sleep hygiene’ is also key. This is the practice of maintaining regular sleep-wake times, using the bedroom only for sleeping, and keeping the bedroom dark and free of electronics and other distractions. The light from electronics has, many times, been suggested as overly stimulating. Avoiding going to bed until we are actually ready to sleep has also been shown as good practice.
Lastly, meditation has been shown to positively affect our sleep patterns. Deep breathing, muscle relaxation techniques and other cognitive behavioral activities can all combat anxiety and insomnia before sleeping.
Guest Writer Bio
Michael Dehoyos is a health blogger at PhD Kingdom and Academic Brits. He also helps companies develop marketing strategies and improve their websites. You can also find Michael’s articles at Coursework Help.