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The link between sleep and mental health

July 18, 2022
By
ieso

Trying to sleep during the recent heatwave has probably reminded many of us of the effect a restless night can have on our state of mind and mood the next day! Getting enough sleep – and sufficient quality of sleep – is important for maintaining good mental health and emotional wellbeing, in both the short and long term.

 

Sleeping well makes us feel refreshed, and improves our concentration, memory, and ability to think clearly. It’s restorative too, helping us to recover both physically and mentally if we’re going through stress. If there are things in our life we need to process, sleep helps us make sense of them. If you’re sleeping badly, as well as being tired and lacking in energy, you may become irritable and more easily upset, or find it hard to focus. A lack of sleep over a period of time can contribute to a decline in mental health.

 

Studies have proved that sleeping is a complex process that has an impact on the whole body. Regulated by numerous hormones and other chemicals produced by the brain, we move through multiple cycles and stages of sleep every night, each of which is thought to play a part in quality sleep. Periods of quiet sleep, which helps to restore the body, alternate with REM (dreaming) which refreshes the mind.

If our internal systems and rhythms are disrupted –for instance, waking up frequently in the night can prevent us from entering REM sleep – this can damage the quality of sleep we get. We can help to prevent this happening by paying attention to what’s known as our ‘sleep hygiene’.

  • Make your environment conducive to sleep. Your bedroom shouldn’t be too hot or cold, and if there are any noises that might disturb you think about using earplugs. If the light wakes you too early, try fitting a blackout blind, or wear an eye mask.
  • Have a specific routine that you always follow before bed. This will help you wind down, and get your mind and body ready for sleep.
  • Doing exercise and keeping active through the day can help you to sleep, but don’t exercise too close to bedtime.
  • Put down your laptop, tablet or phone an hour before you want to go to sleep – these are stimulating activities that can keep your brain whirring!
  • Aim to go to bed and get up at the same time – even at the weekends!
  • Avoid working or watching TV in your bedroom, so your mind comes to associate your bed only with sleeping.
  • Try to clear your head. If your day was hectic, or involved lots of problems, offload to friends or family, or try journaling on paper or your phone – anything that helps you process and ‘put away’ what’s happened.
  • Keep a notebook by your bed! If a thought, worry or idea pops into your mind, ask yourself if you can do anything about it. If so, make a note and tell yourself you’ll deal with it tomorrow. You could use this worry tree from GetSelfHelp.co.uk to work it through. If there’s nothing you can do about it, try and let it go. Progressive muscle relaxation and meditation apps work well here for some people.

Becoming too fixated on sleeping problems can create a vicious cycle, where feelings of anxiety about getting enough sleep actually stop you from sleeping!

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has been shown to work well as a treatment for sleep issues: you can find out more about how it can help here.

In online CBT sessions with ieso, your therapist will first assess your sleep difficulties to check there are no other factors that need addressing. For example, problems with sleep can indicate an underlying mental health difficulty, such as anxiety or depression.

 

You’ll then spend some time formulating your sleep difficulties – discussing examples of what you experience. You can read more about formulation in this blog. The therapist will then work with you on techniques and strategies to change your beliefs, thoughts and behaviours around sleep. This might include behavioural experiments – for instance, instead of staying in bed tossing and turning you could try getting up and doing something else if you haven’t dropped off after 30 minutes, then going back to bed when you feel sleepy, and see if that helps to break the cycle.

 

If you’d like to refer yourself for online CBT with ieso, you can get started by registering here.

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