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Mental Health and Sleep: The Importance of Rest

Mental Health and Sleep: The Importance of Rest

There are some really fascinating things to learn about mental health and sleep. You may be surprised at how closely these things are linked

Keyword(s): mental and sleep

When was the last time you got a good night’s sleep? Around 25% of American adults report suffering from insufficient sleep regularly. The big question is how much does sleep affect your health?

Your mental health and sleep are closely linked. It’s important to understand how sleep can affect your health and how to recognize the signs that you’re not getting enough of it. Let’s take a closer look at the relationship between mental health and sleep. 

The Relationship Between Mental Health and Sleep

When it comes to your well-being sleep is just as important as exercise and diet. During sleep, our bodies repair themselves and sleep allows our brains to process information without the constant influx of information we receive in our waking state.

Think of sleep as a reset button. Without it, we eventually burn out. Poor sleep has been linked to several physical problems such as compromised immune systems as well as an increase in mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.

To better understand the relationship between sleep and your mental health it’s important to understand exactly what happens while you’re sleeping.

What Happens When You Sleep

When you sleep you go between NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Each cycle lasts about 90 minutes. NREM occurs first when you start to fall asleep and makes up for about 75% of your total sleep.

NREM occurs in three stages. The first two (N1 and N2) are responsible for getting you into a deep sleep. You become disengaged from your surroundings, your breathing and heart rate regulate, and your core body temperature drops.

During the third stage (N3) is when most of the magic happens. Your breathing slows, your blood pressure drops and your muscles relax. Then these key things happen:

  • Tissue repair and growth occurs
  • Energy is restored
  • Growth Hormone is released
  • Blood supply to the muscles is increased

The other 25% of your sleep is REM sleep. The longer you are asleep for the longer the periods of REM sleep are. During REM sleep your brain becomes active and this is when dreams occur. Energy is provided to your brain and body for you to use when you awake.

One of the key things that happen during sleep, which is why it is so important to your mental health, is that your cortisol levels drop and then rise again. They drop so that you relax and then begin to rise again in the second half of a night’s sleep so that you are alert in the morning.

What Happens When You Don’t Get Enough Sleep

One of the most important factors when it comes to your mental health is cortisol. When you sleep well cortisol levels stay balanced. The dip in the night and then begin to raise to keep you aware the next day. If you don’t get enough sleep they can continue to rise.

Elevated cortisol levels are linked to weight gain, hormonal imbalances, anxiety, stress, and trouble sleeping. High levels of cortisol also mean lower levels of dopamine which is the body’s reward response. Dopamine is also responsible for regulating motivation and desire.

Low dopamine levels through lack of sleep are linked to depression, decreased sex drive, and problems with concentration and motivation. Dopamine is your reward response, so lacking in it can mean that you stop getting satisfaction from doing things you previously enjoyed.

As well as depression, prolonged low dopamine levels can bring about the symptoms of ADHD, schizophrenia, and dementia. They are also linked to an increased chance of addiction.  

Research has also found that a lack of sleep can harm the function of the amygdala. The amygdala is responsible for our emotional reactions to stimuli. When we are sleep deprived we have a heightened response to negative stimuli. This can manifest as mood swings, low mood, and seemingly erratic behavior.

How to Get a Better Night’s Sleep

Unfortunately getting a good night’s sleep doesn’t come easy to all of us. The sad fact is that those who need it most are the ones who are more likely to struggle to fall asleep in the first place. There are several things you can do to help get that good night’s sleep you need so much.

Exercise

People who exercise regularly during the day tend to sleep better at night and feel more awake during the day. Exercise also helps to increase the amount of time you spend in the deep restorative stages of sleep.

A minimum of 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise can have a hugely beneficial impact on sleep. Be sure to time your workout so that it’s not too close to bedtime so it doesn’t interfere with your sleep.

Diet

What you consume and when you consume it can play a huge part in sleeping. Limit stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine, especially in the later hours of your day. Alcohol can also affect your sleep cycle so avoid drinking too much in the evening.

Consuming too many refined carbohydrates and sugary foods can impact your sleep cycle, making it harder to fall asleep and increasing the chances of waking during the night.

Avoid eating and drinking too many liquids closely to bedtime. Too many liquids will mean that you find yourself waking up to go to the bathroom!

Wind Down

Creating a winding down ritual is key to getting a good night’s sleep. Be sure to stop using your phone or any device that gives off blue-light 3-4 hours before sleeping. Instead, embark upon some relaxing activities such as taking a warm bath, meditating, or reading to help your brain wind down after a busy day.

Sleep supplements and CBD oil can also be taken to help you relax and wind down at the end of the day. They’re especially useful if you frequently find yourself with a busy mind at the end of the day. 

Honor Your Circadian Rhythm

Your circadian rhythm is your natural sleep cycle. You should try and keep to the same sleep-wake schedule each day. If you do this then you should wake up naturally each day. If you need an alarm clock then it’s a sign you’re not getting enough sleep.

Avoid sleeping in, and if you are going to nap make sure they are kept to 15-20 minutes in the early afternoon. 

Time to Catch Some Zzz’s 

Now you understand the relationship between mental health and sleep it’s time to pay more attention to the amount of sleep you’re getting. If you follow the advice above you should have no trouble increasing the amount of good quality sleep you get and you’ll feel the benefits in no time.

If you’re looking for a better night’s sleep then don’t hesitate to contact us or take a look at some of our blogs for how to lead a healthier lifestyle. 

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