How Sleep Can Improve Mental Health

It almost seems too reasonable to be true: the idea that taking care of your physical health could have an impact on your mental health. But, if you think about it, it makes all of the sense in the world. We give our bodies exactly what they need – adequate sleep, and regular physical activity, time for fun and relaxation top-quality fuel in the form of proper nutrition – why wouldn't our body reward us by functioning at its best, both mentally and physically? That, in a nutshell, is the focus of sleep in this educational article. Here's what you need to know about the impact of rest. There are some tips in here for you and your whole family!


How can sleep improve my mental health?
We tend to treat sleep as an unnecessary frill – something to cut out of our schedules when something has to give. But a good night's sleep is essential for our mental functioning. Rest is the same time when our brains switch into maintenance and repair mode, processing, cleaning and reorganising information that we acquired during the day and storing in ways that will allow us to draw upon in the future. Missing out on just a few hours of sleep can take its toll on us very quickly. We become moody and irritable. We have difficulty finding the right words to express what we are thinking and feeling. We struggle to concentrate and to solve problems. Unfortunately, the majority of us – six out of 10 Canadians, according to a 2011 CBC news pool, regularly missed out on at least one of the 6 to 8 hours of sleep a night we need to function at our best. And the situation is equally grim for our kids: a study conducted by the Toronto District Board found that 29% of high school students reported losing sleep because of worries and 48% of students reported feeling tired for no reason most, if not all, all of the time.

As the Toronto District School Board study indicates, what's on our minds can interfere with their ability to get a good nights sleep. When occasional worries wrap up into something more severe – like an ongoing struggle with anxiety or depression – sleep is almost always affected. Sometimes difficult to figure out which came first: the sleep problem or the mental health challenge. People with sleep problems, either sleeping too little or sleeping too much, are more likely to suffer from mental disorders than people who do not experience sleep problems, says the Canadian sleep society. Likewise, the destruction is expected to accompany a psychological disorder. Getting to sleep is only half the battle, as anyone who struggles with the sleep problem will quickly tell you. Staying asleep and sleeping soundly are also crucial elements of a good nights sleep. And they are nothing more than the stuff of which dreams are made when people are struggling with a mental health challenge or dealing with the fallout of grief. 
People who are struggling with depression often experience early morning weakening, and depressed moods that can lead to sleep that is neither restful nor restorative. Spending too much time in rapid eye movement sleep (REM sleep, the stage of sleep characterised by rapid eye movements and in which dreaming typically occurs) contributes to depression. Antidepressants help to reduce the amount of time spent in REM sleep. Some people notice they experience more vivid dreams, or even nightmares, after starting an antidepressant. Adolescents with ADHD tend to have difficulty falling asleep, experience restless sleep, and have difficulty awakening – they may not be sufficiently alert until around noon. It's not exactly the recipe for academic success. Fortunately, there are plenty of things you can do to prevent or deal with sleep problems. 
You should start by taking steps to address your sleep problem.
If you're taking 30 minutes or longer to fall asleep, repeatedly waking in the night, or having difficulty getting back to sleep after waking in the night or early morning. In addition to trying some of the lifestyle modifications that I will list below, you may need to seek help from a therapist who specialises in mindfulness-based or cognitive-based therapy for insomnia. You may also wish to have a sleep study done. 

Using the light to help regulate our body clocks
Your body relies on natural light levels, whether it’s dark or light outside, in order to decide whether it should be manufacturing melatonin, a hormone that is naturally sedating, and which your body should be producing at night, or serotonin, the so-called happiness hormone, which plays a role in warding off depression. Going for a 15 to 30-minute walk in the morning sunshine or sitting in front of a full spectrum light for 15 to 30 minutes in the morning and help to reset your biological clock and restore regular sleeping patterns.

Relax, at least twice a day
Figure out which relaxation methods work best for you, and work them into your daily routine, throughout the day and at bedtime.

Tweak Your Diet
Too much protein at bedtime can lead to difficulty falling asleep, because high concentrations of protein interfere with the absorption of serotonin into the brain, leading to high levels of alertness. Likewise, deficiencies in calcium, magnesium, and the B vitamins can also contribute to insomnia.

Exercise and Sleep
Don't overlook the benefits of exercise for promoting good sleep. Not only will you sleep longer when you're exercising regularly, but you also benefit from an increased rejuvenating slow – wave, deep sleep. Just be sure to time workouts, so that it works for – and not against – you. Exercising 3 to 6 hours before bedtime is ideal, your body temperature has a chance to return to its baseline by the time you want to head to bed, telling your body that it's time to go to sleep.

Practice good sleep hygiene
Create a sleep-friendly environment. This means making a bedroom comfortable, (cool, quiet, dark and soothing) eliminate electronics. Avoid heavy meals within three hours of bedtime. Limit caffeine intake during the day, particularly within 4 to 6 hours of bedtime, and avoid alcohol before bedtime. Have a warm bath 1 to 2 hours before you go to bed: the drop in body temperature that occurs after a shower/bath will help tell your body that it’s time for sleep. Avoid bright light in the evening – and the light from back-lit electronics at bedtime – to encourage the production of healthy levels of melatonin. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on weekends, and limit any daytime naps to a maximum of 15 minutes better yet, avoid napping at all.

Try not to be stressed out by the fact that you’re missing out on sleep
I know it's easier said than done, but getting stressed will only make the problem worse. When you are stressed, your body ramps up production of the activating neurotransmitters- Norepinephrine, epinephrine, and cortisol, which generally subside at night, making it even more difficult for you to obtain the good nights' sleep you desperately crave. Instead of obsessing about the sleep you're not getting, what sleep psychologists refer to as “negative sleep thoughts” or NST’s, replace those and NST’s with your own personalised mantra that reflects the reality of your situation, while infusing a bit of calmness and hope. 

John Arden, author of rewiring your brain: think your way to a better life, suggests the following: “I might make it back to sleep or might not. Either way, it isn't the end of the world, if I don't get a good nights sleep tonight, I will tomorrow night.”