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Sleep and Mental Health

Sleep is vital for our overall health and wellbeing, playing a major role in basic housekeeping for both the brain and the body, responsible maintaining different aspects of neuronal and physical functioning. It contributes to growth and development in children, as well as the maintenance of various aspects of our physical health, such as the heart and circulatory system, metabolism, respiratory system, and immune system [1]. We also know that sleep has a great influence on our mental health, with sleep and mood being closely connected; poor or inadequate sleep can cause irritability and stress, while healthy sleep can enhance well-being [2].

Everyone needs sleep, yet some of us tend to struggle with it more than others. Many people suffer with insomnia, where they find it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep, waking earlier than necessary. Some people may suffer with particular problems that disturb sleep, such as health problems, panic attacks, night sweats, flashbacks or nightmares, or psychosis. Mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety can also make it difficult to wake up or get out of bed, or can lead to excessive sleep, which could include sleeping at times when we want or need to be awake. There are a number of factors outside of mental health that can cause problems with sleep. For example, being a parent or carer, working at night, not having a comfortable place to sleep, or having a health condition that makes it hard to get comfortable, having stresses or worries, for example related to money, housing or work, or simply being easily disturbed from sleep.

Sleep deprivation can have a number of implications, both short term and long term. On the short-term side of things, sleep deprivation can cause exhaustion, headaches, difficulty focusing, and moodiness [3], with research finding that missing just a single night of sleep results in memory, mood, and attentional impairments the next day [4]. While these impairments can be improved by catching up on sleep, it has been found that individuals with chronic insomnia may be significantly more likely to develop a mood disorder, such as depression or anxiety [2]. This relationship between sleep and mental health goes both ways – poor sleep can have a negative impact on mental health, while living with a mental health problem can negatively affect sleep.

However, there are some things we can do to try to improve sleep.

  1. Try to establish a routine – This might mea

n trying to go to bed and wake up at around the same time every day. If you have trouble getting to sleep, it might help to go to bed only once you feel ready to sleep, but still getting up at the same time.

  1. Screen time – Using devices such as phones, tablets, or laptops in the evening can negatively affect sleep. A few hours before bed, consider taking some off-screen time, or adjust the settings to reduce stimulation, such as night mode, do not disturb, or a blue light filter.

  2. Lifestyle factors – Sleep can be improved by looking after yourself physically, considering your diet and activity levels. For example, foods containing caffeine and sugar can make it difficult to sleep, and physical activity, even a moderate level, can help with sleep. Spending time outside in a green space can also improve overall wellbeing and contribute to better sleep.

If you struggle with sleep, it can also be helpful to start a sleep diary, where you can record information such as the time you went to sleep and woke up, the number of hours you slept, and whether you slept during the day. You can also rate the quality of your sleep, whether you woke up in the night and for how long, and what may have disturbed your sleep, e.g., nightmares. A sleep diary can also help you keep track of other factors such as medications, diet, caffeine, alcohol, or nicotine intake, amount of physical activity, and general feelings and moods. This can help you to understand and potentially explain any problems you may be having with your sleep. Sleep trackers are another great way to monitor sleep, as they can detect interrupted sleep, letting you know when you're moving around or waking during the night. Some sleep trackers can also detect sleep phases, and can time your alarm to go off during a period when you're sleeping less deeply [5]

If you or anyone you know is struggling with sleep and would like to consider professional help, we at Surrey Therapy Practice have a team of experienced professionals who offer treatments for sleep problems. Many of our team members use an integrative approach to tailor their treatment plans to specific individual needs. Our therapists, counsellors, and psychologists offer treatments both online and in-person in Banstead. Get in touch and make an enquiry here.



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