07 Mar Importance of Sleep for your Mental Fitness
Ask yourself, “Did I get enough sleep last night”? If the answer is no, don’t worry, you’re not alone. In fact, you’re among the two-thirds of adults throughout all developed nations who fail to obtain the recommended eight hours of sleep a night.
Why sleep is so important for our mental fitness?
Healthy Brain Function and Emotional Well-Being
Sleep helps your brain work properly. While you’re sleeping, your brain is preparing for the next day. It’s forming new pathways to help you learn and remember information.
Sleep plays an important role in your physical health. For example, sleep is involved in healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels. Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke.
Daytime Performance and Safety
Getting enough quality sleep at the right times helps you function well throughout the day. People who are sleep deficient are less productive at work and school. They take longer to finish tasks, have a slower reaction time, and make more mistakes.
Sleep deficiency can cause you to feel very tired during the day. You may not feel refreshed and alert when you wake up. Sleep deficiency also can interfere with work, school, driving, and social functioning. Sleep deficiency can cause problems with learning, focusing, and reacting. You may have trouble making decisions, solving problems, remembering things, controlling your emotions and behaviour, and coping with change. You may take longer to finish tasks, have a slower reaction time, and make more mistakes.
Routinely sleeping less than six or seven hours a night diminishes your immune system, increases your risk of cancer and the chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Lack of sleep can also be linked to major cardiovascular diseases, stroke and congestive heart failure, while it contributes to all major mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety.
A common myth is that people can learn to get by on little sleep with no negative effects. However, research shows that getting enough quality sleep at the right times is vital for mental health, physical health, quality of life, and safety.
Believe it or not, sleep can actually be the simplest, yet most overlooked answer to negating bad thoughts and feelings. It’s the ultimate “re-setter” – the single most effective thing we can do to reset our brain and mental health each day.
What happens when we don’t get enough sleep?
Think of the brain as a regular muscle. When we use our legs all day, for example, we rest them by sitting down, otherwise those particular leg muscles begin to perform badly and, in some cases, break or tear. Similarly, if our brain is overworked without a rest (sleep) it simply cannot perform as it should.
Remember, our brain essentially controls everything in our body. So not only are things like our reaction-time or concentration impaired, it’s our emotions that are impacted as well.
A study conducted in the US showed that sleep-deprived subjects demonstrated a 60% increase in emotional activity compared to those who were well-rested. Various regions of their brains became heightened, triggering strong emotions such as anger and rage, while other areas became hyperactive.
What the study showcased was that insufficient sleep doesn’t make the brain think negatively on a continuous basis, but rather an under-slept brain swings excessively to both happy and negative extremes.
Unfortunately, one swing does not cancel out the other – that’s not how emotions work. Instead, extreme sadness can lead to a sense of worthlessness and depression, while hypersensitivity to pleasurable experiences can lead to risk-taking, poor decision making and anxiety.
The pillars that hold up our wellbeing begin to collapse under these conditions. We question our meaning and purpose; we have less energy and our will to connect with nature or exercise diminishes. We’re more likely to resort to drugs and alcohol, our eating habits become erratic, our goals are not met, and it becomes harder to practice mindfulness, gratitude and self-compassion.
The problem with sleep in relation to wellbeing is that it’s bi-directional, meaning that a lack of sleep causes lower wellbeing, and this, in turn, leads to more sleep issues. Furthermore, each can be causations for the other – it doesn’t matter which issue arises first.
It’s a difficult cycle to break, especially when there’s a prolonged external factor causing heightened negative emotions. In fact, nowadays, more and more of us are experiencing this viciously negative spiral.
How to we get more sleep?
If only getting to sleep was as simple as counting sheep. One sheep… two sheep… three *yawn* sheep… four….
It’s all well and good saying ‘just get more sleep if you feel depressed or anxious’, because, as we know, depression and anxiety makes it more difficult to get a good night’s sleep.
Think of those times you’ve tried to sleep when there’s a flight to catch, a big presentation or a job interview the following morning. When these stresses are prevalent in our minds it’s difficult to get to sleep, stay asleep or feel refreshed in the morning. These isolated scenarios can essentially play as metaphors for an ongoing mental health issue – they’re stopping the mind from being sufficiently clear and geared up for sleep.
Here are 7 techniques and practices to try and break the cycle.
Meditation, yoga or deep abdominal breathing before bed
Write a list of things that need to be done tomorrow and put it to one side – don’t think about it when in bed
Exercise during the day
Avoid looking at a bright screen before trying to get to sleep
Avoid caffeine, alcohol or nicotine in the evenings
Take a warm shower before bed
Wear earplugs, a mask or purchase black out blinds