The amount of sleep we get each night has a direct impact on not only our physical health, but our mental health as well. Lack of sleep can make us feel down, worried, stressed and unable to function to our full capacity in day-to-day life.
Sleep problems such as insomnia are a common symptom of many mental illnesses, including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The relationship between insomnia and mental illness is bidirectional, in that either one can lead to the other. About 50 percent of adults with insomnia have a mental health problem, while up to 90 percent of adults with depression experience sleep problems.
Research suggests that insomnia affects a person’s ability to process negative emotions, whereas a good night’s sleep helps foster both mental and emotional resilience. Studies found that sleep-deprived people showed greater emotional reactivity to unpleasant images than to pleasant images, however, the people who weren’t sleep-deprived showed no differences in emotional reactivity.
During a normal sleep pattern, the body and brain go through different stages, from deep relaxation to lighter, more active sleep. Each stage is important as it contributes to the overall physical, mental and emotional health of a person. Constant disruptions to these sleep patterns affect the levels of neurotransmitters and stress hormones in the body, which confuses the brain and impairs thinking and emotional regulation.
Getting a good night of sleep on a regular basis is imperative in order to help manage and overcome mental illness. Some of the ways you can help to improve your sleep are:
Meditation, deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation help with clearing the mind and becoming aware of the body, which in turn decreases the anxiety that many people with insomnia have about going to sleep. Also listening to soft music, or reading a book before bed can help to increase relaxation and refocus any negative or worrying thoughts onto more positive topics.
Introducing exercise into your daily routine, including conditioning and stretching exercises, is a great way to burn off physical energy as well as mental energy. Exercise will help to promote sleep as well as release chemicals into your body called endorphins, that help to bring about feelings of euphoria and general well-being.
Reduce Caffeine And Alcohol Intake
Caffeine, alcohol and junk food can act as stimulants and make it even more difficult for your body and mind to switch off and fall asleep. Limit your daily intake of these substances and try not to have them at all in the evening before bedtime.
The light emitted from computer monitors, mobile phones, tablets or LCD screens can suppress the release of the natural hormone melatonin, the hormone that controls your natural sleep/wake cycle. Reducing the melatonin levels in your body makes it harder to fall and stay asleep, so turn off all screens at least an hour before your bedtime.
By creating a routine that you follow each night before bed you are training your body and mind to recognise the steps in the routine and therefore prepare for sleep. Your routine could include a warm bath or shower to relax your body, some journalling to empty your mind of any worries or concerns from the day and some light reading or meditation to quiet your mind in preparation for sleep.
If you are suffering from insomnia and it is having a detrimental effect on your quality of life, both physically and mentally, then these tips above are a great way to help improve your sleep patterns. However, they are not intended to be used alone; it is also important that you seek help from a professional therapist who can help support you in regulating your sleep patterns and maintaining a healthy mental state.