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8 Mins

World Sleep Day: Why sleep is essential for your mental health

March 13, 2023
Alexandra Hopkins

There’s nothing like a good night’s sleep. Most of us have heard this phrase many times throughout our lives, and of course, it’s true. Sleep does have the power to calm our mind and improve our mood, to name just a few of its benefits. But why is sleep so important and exactly how does it impact our mental wellbeing?

The theme of this year’s World Sleep Day (which takes place on 17th March) is ‘sleep is essential for health’. The organisers, World Sleep Society, say that sleep is key to maintaining a person’s physical and mental well-being. When we sleep, our body and mind has the chance to recuperate and recharge, which improves our concentration, productivity, brain function and memory recall. Sleep also gives us the chance to process our thoughts and emotions, which can help us to feel more balanced when we wake up.

Although we tend to focus on the number of hours that we get, the quality of our sleep matters too. In fact, WSS goes as far to say that the latter is the most important of the two. During sleep, we move through multiple cycles. Quiet sleep, which restores the body, alternates with REM (dreaming), which is when our brains consolidate our memories. To enter the REM phase, and achieve the best quality of rest, we need to sleep deeply without interruption.

Clearly, sleep plays an important role in our health, however, it’s fairly common for people to experience problems with sleeping. A lack of sleep can cause us to feel more irritable, have less energy and struggle to remember things. All of these factors mean that we’re less able to feel like the best version of ourselves. Understandably, this can have implications on our lives, from how we act in our relationships to our performance at work.

People who struggle with sleeping are also more at risk of encountering mental health issues, as sleep and mental health both impact each other. Not getting enough rest can worsen your mental health, but at the same time, living with a mental health issue can make it harder for you to fall asleep. For some people, this can become a vicious cycle.

If you have difficulty sleeping, you may worry that you’re not getting enough rest, and ironically, this could make falling asleep even harder. You may put pressure on yourself to sleep for a certain number of hours, and then feel disappointed if this doesn’t happen. Try to remember that our sleep pattern is dependent on many ever-changing factors, so it’s bound to vary. No one sleeps perfectly every night.

So, if sleep is essential to boosting our mental health and overall wellbeing, how do we make sure that we get the best quality of rest possible? Here are some tips to help you get a great night’s sleep…

Create a calming environment

When trying to drift off, it helps if your environment is peaceful. Make sure that the room is a comfortable temperature and that your bed feels inviting. Remove your distractions by turning off the television, putting your phone out of reach and making the room as dark as possible. Lastly, you could try listening to a meditation app or calming sounds to wind down.  

Remember, your bed is for sleeping

If you can’t drop off within 30 minutes or so, get up, leave the room or sit somewhere else, and do a relaxing activity, like reading, colouring or a word search. Although it’s tempting to reach for your phone or the TV remote, try to avoid technology as it can wake you up further. Return to your bed only when you’re feeling sleepy and repeat this pattern if you aren’t dropping off. Your body and mind will soon learn that the bed is for sleep and not tossing, turning and overthinking.  

Let go of the day

If you’ve had a stressful day, try not to take those thoughts to bed with you. Either speak to someone about how you’re feeling, or use journaling to process your emotions. Both of these things can help you to figure out what actions to take to resolve the situation so that you’re able to leave it behind.

Routine is your friend

Getting into a regular routine is a good way to prepare yourself for sleep. Why not start by getting everything ready for the next morning, so that it’s one less thing to worry about? It can also help to have a consistent bed and wake-up time so that your body is in a rhythm and learns what to expect.

Avoid stimulants before sleeping

Watch what you’re putting into your body before you sleep. Many foods and drinks are stimulants and boost our energy levels, which isn’t what you want at bedtime. Avoid coffee, caffeinated drinks, alcohol and anything that’s too sugary.  

Add exercise into your routine

Exercising during the day can really help to improve your sleep. It might be as simple as a brisk walk in the afternoon to tire out your body. Just remember not to work out too close to bedtime, as this will increase your heart rate and you might find it harder to wind down and drift off afterwards.

Don’t set unrealistic expectations

Try not to put pressure on yourself to have a flawless sleep, as the chances are that this will only stress you out and prevent it from happening. Rather than setting yourself goals for what you think a good night’s sleep should look like, let go of your expectations and just see what happens.

If you’re having trouble sleeping, ieso offers Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which could help. CBT is a proven treatment for sleep issues and disorders. It teaches you how to manage your mental health, giving you the tools you need to break vicious cycles. Find out more about whether CBT could be right for you.

ieso Online Therapy
This blog has been written by a member of the clinical team at ieso.
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