Did you know that sleep and mental health are closely linked? When we don’t get the rest we need, our brain function is affected – as you’ve probably noticed when you’ve become overtired and observed how irritable you felt.
It’s one thing to endure a bad night or two, and quite another thing to suffer from frequent sleep loss. Worse yet, mental health issues such as depression and anxiety can actually interfere with healthy sleep, setting up a vicious cycle that makes life increasingly difficult.
HOW MANY OF US ARE WALKING AROUND TIRED?
One estimate shows that 40% of Canadians deal with some form of sleep disorder. The most common difficulty is insomnia, which is defined as difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, even when you have the opportunity to do so. Around 1 in 10 Canadians experience chronic insomnia, while an additional 20% to 25% reporting occasional symptoms.
Those of us with psychiatric conditions are even more likely to be yawning or groggy during the day. Chronic sleep problems may affect half of all people with mental health conditions, according to one study. Sleep problems are especially common among people living with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.
A SYMPTOM – OR A CAUSE
Doctors and therapists who look after patients with mental health issues often see sleep problems as symptoms of the larger condition. However, many studies suggest that poor sleep may actually raise the risks that you will face a psychiatric disorder. Conversely, restoring healthy sleep can actually ease the symptoms of any mental health problems you are experiencing.
Experts don’t yet know why sleep is so closely associated with mental health. But brain studies suggest that a good night’s sleep helps foster both mental and emotional resilience, while chronic sleep deprivation sets the stage for negative thinking and emotional vulnerability.
HOW SLEEP AFFECTS THE BRAIN
Every 90 minutes, the average person cycles between two kinds of sleep. During the first kind – termed “quiet” sleep – the sleeper moves through 4 stages of increasingly deep sleep. Body temperature drops, muscles relax, and heart rate and breathing slow. The deepest stage of quiet sleep produces physiological changes that help boost immune system functioning.
The other kind of sleep, termed REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, is the period when people dream. Body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing look more like levels seen when we’re awake. Studies show that REM sleep enhances learning and memory, and contributes to emotional health.
Although scientists are still puzzling over the specifics, they’ve discovered that sleep disruption wreaks havoc in the brain, impairing thinking and emotional regulation. This is why insomnia may amplify the effects of mental health conditions and vice versa.
ADOPTING THE HABITS THAT SUPPORT GOOD SLEEP
Here are tips that can help all of us get a better night’s rest.
- Avoid caffeine after mid-day. If you’re suffering from severe insomnia, give it up altogether for a few weeks while your sleep cycle restores itself.
- Don’t smoke or vape. The nicotine in cigarettes and e-cigarettes is a powerful stimulant that can speed your heart rate and thinking. If you can’t quit, avoid smoking or vaping before bedtime.
- Don’t drink. Alcohol is a sedative, and it may help you fall asleep – but you will wake up during the night when the effect wears off, which disrupts the natural rhythms that are part of healthy sleep.
- Get plenty of exercises. Regular workouts help people fall asleep faster, spend more time in deep sleep, and awaken less often during the night.
- Maintain a regular sleep-and-wake schedule. Go to bed at roughly the same time each night and awake at the same time each morning.
- Keep your bedroom dark and cool. Don’t watch TV or look at electronic devices before bed, as the blue light they emit can stimulate wakefulness.
As a professional counsellor serving hundreds of people in the Edmonton area, I have seen and helped many people who were suffering from sleep issues. In addition to the sleep hygiene basics listed above, many people benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy – a treatment in which negative thoughts are challenged in order to modify behaviors and ease the symptoms of specific issues such as anxiety or depression.
If you’re worried about poor sleep or any related mental health issue, please reach out to me today to schedule an appointment.