Sleep & Mental Health – Guest Post From Megan Hemming

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We know that getting a good night’s sleep can make all the difference in how we feel and function the next day. Links between our sleeping habits and physical health have been established for years, but now, with mental health becoming more and more talked about, it follows that there has been an interest in the connection between sleep and mental health.

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It is understood that common mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety, can have a detrimental impact on sleep.

Often people who experience these issues also encounter sleep-related problems such as insomnia or extreme fatigue.

Research into this area, however, is consistently showing that it is much more of a two-way street, and that lack of quality sleep can also have a significant detrimental effect on mental health problems.

Prof. Russell Foster, a circadian neuroscientist, bases his work in the study of sleep and its importance. In his 2013 Ted Talk “Why do we sleep?”, Professor Foster claims that his work has found a biological connection between mental health and sleep.

He explains that there is an overlap between the genes understood to give rise to normal sleep, and those that predispose for mental illness. Not only that but when looking at bipolar disorder, it was shown that abnormal sleep patterns were seen in individuals who were at high risk of developing bipolar disorder before they were clinically diagnosed.

It seems now more than ever, it is important that we treat our sleeping patterns with the respect it deserves, making sure we listen to our bodies and get the rest we need. If you have trouble with sleep or are just looking to tune up your nighttime routine, there are a few recommendations below that are advised to help you get a good night’s sleep.

Top tips for better sleep

Cut out stimulants

Stimulants do exactly what it says on the tin; they stimulate your brain, which of course is not ideal when you are trying to wind down and switch off.

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If you are finding it hard to get off to sleep, reducing or cutting out caffeine/nicotine might be a good place to start.

Consistent bed/wake times

This kind of routine is normally something put in place for young children and babies, but that we lose as adults. Sticking to roughly the same bedtime each night and wake time each morning helps signal to your body when it’s time to wind down for the day and when it’s time to get up and about, making it that bit easier to fall asleep and feel well rested.

Exercise

Exercise has obvious and proven benefits for physical and mental health, so incorporating a form of exercise that works for you into your day is always advisable.

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In terms of sleep, it can help reduce stress levels and clear your mind as well as being physically tiring. Bedtime/evening yoga can be a helpful practice if you struggle to sleep as it combines the physical movement with calming and anxiety reducing breathing exercises, so can help get your body and mind ready for bed.

Write out a To-do list

This can be a useful exercise before bed if you struggle with letting go of the day. Writing out your to do list for the next day before you go to bed might help you let go of any racing or intrusive thoughts you have or worries that you might forget something. This kind of thing can also be helpful if you are generally feeling stressed or anxious before bed- writing out how you feel can sometimes act as a release, enabling you to get the rest you need.

Remove Distractions

This one can be a struggle since we rely so heavily on technology for the normal day to day stuff. Taking half an hour before you plan on going to bed to switch off devices and bright lights is another way to get our brains to slow down, step off the treadmill of daily tasks and just relax before bedtime.

Environment

This links to the previous point in that it can be helpful to remove distractions from your bedroom. Using an alarm clock instead of your phone to get up in the morning means your phone can stay out of your bedroom and the temptation to scroll through social media or catch up on emails is no longer there.

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It can also help to make sure your room is in darkness, and reasonably tidy. All of these things can help create a calm, relaxing environment that prepared you for sleep.

These are just a few things to try that can help with some of the common sleep problems people encounter. There are some great resources online for getting better sleep, and tips for more specific problems. If you have persistent problems staying asleep or getting to sleep or are concerned about your sleep in any way, make sure to contact your GP.

Some helpful resources:

www.nhs.uk

www.mind.org.uk

www.sleepfoundation.org

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