I once had a physician tell me that in his opinion, if I could do one thing to avoid the cycle of hospitalization for my own mental health condition, that thing would be to establish a healthy sleep routine and get a solid 8 hours of sleep every night. Of course, getting sleep is not a magic cure for mental health conditions, but does the amount of sleep we get affect our mental wellness? Absolutely!
It is easy to recognize that bodies need sleep to rejuvenate and refresh. I don't think I will get any arguments there. For myself, when I am overtired I am crabby and have difficulty functioning. Lack of sleep impacts my work, social life and relationships. So its simple, if each of us consistently gets the sleep we need, the world will be a happy and wonderful place, right? If only it were that simple…
What if the problem isn't just that there aren't enough hours in the day to find time for a good night sleep? What if we set aside the time to sleep but find that falling asleep, staying asleep or sleeping well is the problem? Research from NIMH shows that more than one-half of insomnia cases are related to depression, anxiety or psychological stress.
Many times, presence of insomnia can also be helpful in determining if a mental illness is present. In addition, poor sleep can worsen the symptoms of many mental health conditions. According to information from NAMI.org
, "All of the scientific data shows the connection between medical and mental illnesses: good sleep is necessary for recovery-or prevention." In addition, many medical and mental health conditions can be worsened by sleep related problems. So, let's break this down – lack of sleep can worsen mental illness symptoms, but mental illness can worsen our ability to sleep?? The good news is there are things you can do to help relieve some of the symptoms of insomnia.
The first line of defense is to set up good sleeping habits and consider any underlying conditions, such as sleep apnea, that may be causing the problems sleeping. Next is to find and practice good sleep hygiene. What will work is different for each individual; however if you are looking for some tips, below are a few of my favorites, as laid out by Mayo Clinic
1. Stick to a sleep schedule
Set aside no more than eight hours for sleep. The recommended amount of sleep for a healthy adult is at least seven hours. Most people don't need more than eight hours in bed to achieve this goal.
Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Try to limit the difference in your sleep schedule on weeknights and weekends to no more than one hour. Being consistent reinforces your body's sleep-wake cycle.
If you don't fall asleep within about 20 minutes, leave your bedroom and do something relaxing. Read or listen to soothing music. Go back to bed when you're tired. Repeat as needed.
2. Pay attention to what you eat and drink
Don't go to bed hungry or stuffed. In particular, avoid heavy or large meals within a couple of hours of bedtime. Your discomfort might keep you up.
Nicotine, caffeine and alcohol deserve caution, too. The stimulating effects of nicotine and caffeine take hours to wear off and can wreak havoc on quality sleep. And even though alcohol might make you feel sleepy, it can disrupt sleep later in the night.
3. Create a restful environment
Create a room that's ideal for sleeping. Often, this means cool, dark and quiet. Exposure to light might make it more challenging to fall asleep. Avoid prolonged use of light-emitting screens just before bedtime. Consider using room-darkening shades, earplugs, a fan or other devices to create an environment that suits your needs.
Doing calming activities before bedtime, such as taking a bath or using relaxation techniques, might promote better sleep.
4. Limit daytime naps
Long daytime naps can interfere with nighttime sleep. If you choose to nap, limit yourself to up to 30 minutes and avoid doing so late in the day.
If you work nights, however, you might need to nap late in the day before work to help make up your sleep debt.
5. Include physical activity in your daily routine
Regular physical activity can promote better sleep. Avoid being active too close to bedtime, however.
Spending time outside every day might be helpful, too.
Do you have other ways tips to get the sleep you need? We would love to hear them!