When was the last time you had a restful night’s sleep? Do you wake up each morning feeling rejuvenated and ready to tackle the day? Or do you feel sluggish and unable to focus at work?
When the morning alarm beckons after a night of tossing and turning, many of us have to fight the temptation to hit the snooze button, desperate for just a few more minutes of sleep. While sleep may feel like a luxury in your already-too-busy schedule, getting enough sleep allows your body and mind to perform necessary daily tasks, to fight off illnesses and take care of your mental health.
If you find yourself frequently struggling to fall asleep, stay asleep, or wake up early, you may notice that your lack of sleep is affecting your mental health, along with your physical well-being. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at the effects of sleep deprivation on mental health and some potential ways to improve your quality of sleep.
Why is Sleep Important for Mental Health?
Sleep and mental health have a complicated relationship. Lacking sleep affects your mental health, and certain mental health conditions, like depression and mood disorders, can cause sleep deprivation and insomnia. Since the two are so intertwined, it’s helpful to understand how exactly sleep benefits our mental health:
- Restores and renews energy levels: Your physical and mental health depend on one another, and your body requires enough sleep to have ample energy to perform its necessary tasks.
- Strengthens our immune system: By getting at least six to nine hours of quality sleep, your immune system is able to heal itself and more aggressively fight off infections and illnesses.
- Aids in mood and emotion regulation: An article on sleep research reports that insomnia affects the pre-frontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for regulating emotions and self-control, and because of this, “insomnia so often coexists with mood swings, grumpiness and erratic behavior.”
- Promotes neuron health: Have you ever noticed how your brain seems to shut down when you’re feeling tired? According to Mental Health America, studies show that “the neurons in the brain send their signals at slower speeds when you’re tired,” affecting your ability to make decisions, reason and react, and these slow neuron signals are caused by the buildup of waste-like proteins between cells that your brain typically cleans up during sleep.
- Encourages balanced hormones: When we sleep, we allow our bodies to regulate hormone levels. Mental Health America also describes how sleep deprivation releases more ghrelin, our hunger hormone, and less leptin, our satiety hormone, affecting your appetite and causing food cravings, and because of this, “prolonged sleep deprivation may lead to unwanted weight gain and diabetes.”
Lifestyle Changes to Improve Your Lack of Sleep and Mental Health
1. Make Your Bedroom a Relaxing Retreat
- Limit light & noise: Try using blackout curtains or reducing noises with a soothing sound machine. Maintaining a cool room temperature is also helpful for dozing off sleep.
- Mattress & pillow quality: Is your bed feeling uncomfortable? Check if it’s time to freshen your mattress by flipping it or invest in a better mattress or pillow for a better night’s rest.
- Unplug before bed: Keep your time in bed electronic free, and allow your brain to disengage from checking work emails or social media accounts. #sleepingformymentalhealth
2. Create a Bedtime Routine
- Sleep schedule: Go to bed and wake at the same times every day, despite whether it’s a work day or not.
- Unwind before bed: Create your own nightly self-care routine to unwind and relax your thoughts (e.g. relax in a bath, try deep breathing exercises, listen to relaxing music, sip an herbal tea while reading, etc.).
- Mediation or aromatherapy: Taking time to still your mind through meditation is a great way to prepare for bed. Using essential oils for aromatherapy is another effective way to help you relax before bed.
3. Establish Healthier Habits
- Exercise regularly: Working out increases your need for more sleep. Try creating a morning exercise routine to boost your morning energy and encourage more sleep.
- Avoid caffeine: While coffees and teas are warm and relaxing, stick to non-caffeinated beverages in the afternoons and evenings.
- Limit late-night nicotine or alcohol use: These substances disturb how well you sleep and can make falling asleep more challenging.
- Eat a well-balanced diet: We are what we eat! By eating right with a diet focused on protein, fruits, and vegetables, you’re fueling your body and mind, allowing them to best perform their jobs.
4. Talk with a Mental Health Therapist
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This form of therapy can help you understand how your thoughts and feelings may be influencing your sleep deprivation and other behaviors. CBT can empower you to take back control over those sleep-intrusive worries that are keeping you up all night.
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): DBT is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy that helps patients navigate through negative or unhealthy behaviors. This type of therapy can help you find relief from powerful thoughts and steady your mind throughout the night.
- Mindfulness Techniques: Mindfulness involves focusing on the present moment and fully accepting it. Science has shown mindfulness to have a strong correlation with reduced stress and promotion in relaxation. Practicing mindfulness before bed can help relax your mind and prepare for a good night’s sleep.
It’s important to determine the underlying causes that may be affecting your sleep, so you can remedy your sleeplessness. If small lifestyle changes do not improve your sleep, you may find it helpful to talk with your doctor to rule out any physical influences (e.g. sleep apnea, etc.) or to work with a mental health professional to understand how your mental health conditions may affect your sleep and what sleep-hygiene practices would work best for you.
Discover Behavioral Health Services in Minnesota
If anxious thoughts or worries are keeping you from sleep, working with a mental health professional may help. If you’re interested in connecting with a mental health provider for individual therapy, The Calli Institute can help you find a therapist who understands your needs, offers a supportive and comfortable environment, and provides comprehensive care that is tailored to you and your goals. If you’d like to speak with a member of our team to learn more about individual therapy, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, contact The Calli Institute today.