Better Sleep for Better Mental Health

sleep and mental healthThink about how good you feel after a great night of sleep. You’re ready to face the day, conquer that to-do list, and you have that little extra “pep” in your step. Unfortunately, many people find it difficult to get the recommended amount of sleep (7-8 hours) every night, choosing to be as productive as possible into the wee hours of the night. However, recent studies have shown that getting a good night’s sleep is vital to our overall health and wellbeing, especially when it comes to our mental health.

Sleep and Mental Health

When we aren’t sleeping well, we’re more susceptible to mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Sleep allows our brain the recovery time it needs to properly process all the information swirling around up there and getting it stored in our memory banks. Without sleep, our judgement can become impaired, and we can have less control of our emotions.

The importance of sleep for better mental health is apparent in several ways, including:

Improving memory. While we sleep, the brain establishes and strengthens neural pathways that impact our short term and long term memory. Plus, throughout each phase of sleep our brain works on transforming the new information we’ve learned into memories. This means when we aren’t getting enough sleep, it’s much easier to be forgetful or misplace things.

Boosting ability to learn. When we are tired, we have difficulty focusing, which makes it much harder to decipher and retain information. Getting a good night’s sleep provides for a clearer, sharper mind.

Increasing reaction time. Sleepiness slow us down, physically and mentally. One of the more specific ways it slow us down is by decreasing our reaction time, which makes doing certain tasks that require fast thinking difficult. Driving while tired, in particular, is extremely dangerous.

Speeding up thought processes. Getting a good night’s sleep makes you more alert throughout the day, allowing you to concentrate and pay attention more effectively. Sleep deprivation can cloud our minds, making even simple tasks seem confusing.

Improving mood. Better sleep also keeps us emotionally well; a lack of sleep can cause depression, anxiety and we feel generally more unstable. Feeling angry and irritable tends to go together with tiredness!

Improving Sleeping Habits for Better Mental Health

If you aren’t sure if you are getting the right amount of sleep, it’s important to consider how you feel when you wake up and how you function throughout the day. Do you wake up still tired? Do you feel “foggy” and find yourself practically nodding off at certain times? Are you irritable or emotional and have trouble concentrating or remembering things? If so, these are all signs that improving your sleeping habits is necessary for better mental health.

First, make sure you establish a nightly routine. Give yourself time to wind down from the day, aiming for the same time each evening. Avoid drinking caffeinated beverages in the late afternoon and evening; choose herbal tea instead. Keep the bedroom as a space that is solely for sleeping; removing electronic devices like televisions, computers, tablets and cell phones has recently been recommended by specialists. The reason for this is because electronics give off blue light which has been shown to cue the brain that it’s not time to sleep yet. Keep the room dark at night but allow for natural light in the morning, as this helps regulate your circadian rhythms.

It’s also important to stay active throughout the day. Regular exercise allows you to fall asleep quicker and sleep more soundly. If you find you have a hard time winding down, try deep breathing and relaxation exercises to induce sleep.

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