Is Sleep Affecting Your Mental Health?
Sleep is essential to all of us, but many struggle with it. Why are our bodies so dependent on a good night’s sleep? If we only look at the data from the 1900’s, we will notice that our grandfathers used to get about an average of 9 hours of snooze time per day, which was enough to allow their bodies to recuperate and their minds to complete all of their resting and storing functions. The numbers have shifted drastically since then, and the total amount of sleeping hours we are currently getting is about 6 only, which puts us under the 7 hours mark.
Any amount of time under 7 hours of snooze time is putting us at risk for a variety of challenges. Studies have shown that people who get less than 7 hours of sleep are more likely to be obese or overweight, have thyroid issues, imbalanced sugar levels and resistance to insulin. In addition to the decreased average sleep time that we are allowing our bodies, we may also be going through a challenge, transition, or situation that will disturb even more the quality and/or quantity of sleep we are getting.
usually sort themselves out within about a month or more, depending on the situation or challenge we’re going through. But longer stretches of bad sleep may likely start to impact our lives. This can cause extreme tiredness, in addition to rendering usually manageable tasks harder in our daily life.
Sleep problems are common, and you may find the tips in this article useful in improving them and helping you create a healthy sleep routine.
Sleep and Specific Mental Health Problems
When we are sleep-deprived, all our nerves are restless and our behaviors become compulsive. That’s because the nervous system is not getting a chance at resting properly and restoring all of the spent energy. We become more agitated, and our behaviors turn into compulsive ones. We lose our ability to focus and rationalize. In prolonged situations, this will turn into full-blown mental problems.
Depression and sleep problems are closely linked. People with insomnia may have a tenfold higher risk of developing depression than people who get a good night’s sleep. With too little sleep, our bodies fail at replenishing the stores of happy hormones and we wake up groggy and tired.
Anxiety disorders have a strong association with sleeping problems such as insomnia as well. Sleep problems may become an added source of worry, creating anticipatory anxiety at bedtime that makes it harder to fall asleep. With decreased sleep hours, our body releases elevated amounts of cortisol into the blood. Cortisol, or the stress hormone, will decrease our ability to cope with stress.
Bipolar disorder involves episodes of extreme moods that can be both high (mania) and low (depression). Your feelings and symptoms are quite different depending on the type of episode. Lack of sleep can exacerbate those shifts, increasing their occurrence and rendering them more intense, which will cause major impairment in everyday life.
Autism Spectrum Disorder
We already know that children and adolescents with ASD have a higher prevalence of sleep problems, much higher than typical children do. Insomnia or too little sleep time aggravates the challenging behaviors of a child or person with ASD, and can impede their progress immensely.
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that involves reduced attention span and increased impulsiveness.
Sleeping problems are common in people with ADHD. They may have difficulty falling asleep, frequent awakenings, and excessive daytime sleepiness.
Consider these tips to sleep longer:
- Set a doable bedtime routine
Your body needs consistency, plus you’re more likely to get enough sleep if you schedule rest like your other important tasks. In fact, make it your priority. My clients find major improvements in their sleep when I sit down with them and help them set a realistic routine that they can conform to in the long run. I have found that behavior modification is excellent in that domain, as we look at all the details involved in the sleeping routine and adapt them accordingly. In addition, routines have been found to increase the likelihood of someone sticking to the desired behavior and increase the rate at which we adopt that targeted behavior to finally complete it automatically.
Drinking caffeine to stay awake during your working day can keep you up at night. Try eliminating drinking the coffee and soft drinks starting six to eight hours before bed. Don’t forget to cut down on tea as well, as tea has an even higher caffeine content than coffee does.
Relax by taking a hot bath, meditating, reading or envisioning a soothing scene while lying in bed. Turn off daytime worries by finishing any next-day preparations about an hour before bed. You can adopt a breathing routine that may signal to your brain that you are relaxed. And therefore induce sleep hormones to kick in. Boxed breathing has been found to not only alleviate the anxiety you get right before sleep, but will also anchor your mind to a sleep-ready mode.
Working out can improve sleep in lots of ways, including by relieving muscle tension. Don’t work out right before bed, though, since exercise may make you more alert, so avoid intense activities around bedtime, such as going to the gym. You can try gentle upper-body stretches to help transition into sleep.
- Have a fatty dinner
Yes, when you include a small amount of fat in your dinner, your body will sleep longer and deeper, as fats will require more energy to be metabolized and processed. This is not a green light for you to go wild and make the wring choices. There are plenty of healthy fats that you can include in your dinner, such half an avocado or olive oil in your salad dressing for example! So make sure to allocate your daily fat intake to your dinner meal form now on.
If you are in need of urgent help and your poor sleeping habits are profoundly impacting your life, know that there are strategies that you can learn through therapy that can help you better cope.
Both Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) will teach you techniques that will help you improve your sleep. They will make a change at the behavior level, looking at your triggers and environmental factors that are keeping you from falling asleep or sleeping too little. These therapy modalities focus on changing lifestyle habits that impact your sleeping patterns.
Since sleep disorders can be both caused by and trigger emotional health problems such as anxiety, stress, and depression, therapy is an effective way of treating the underlying problem rather than just the symptoms, helping you develop healthy sleeping patterns for life.
You can directly contact Dr. Carla Kesrouani if you have more questions.