By Marti Warmuth, MA
8 min read
Sleep is something that many of us admit that we want to get more of, but most of us don’t. As I write this, I’ve been struggling with my sleep patterns for a couple of weeks at this point. We all go through times like that, but did you know that, if you are not getting enough sleep, you can actually be negatively affecting your mental health? It’s true. Getting good sleep and feeling well rested is absolutely vital when it comes to taking care of our mental health. Why? We’re going to take a closer look at that and how you can be sure to get better sleep.
There are a lot of links between sleep and mental health. Many people don’t realize how closely connected the two are, but in short, if you’re not getting enough sleep, it’s going to be that much harder for you to deal with exactly what is going on with your life and in your head. It’s harder to cope with everyday, healthy stress if you can’t even get enough sleep in a night. This, of course, is a concern and you need to make sure that you get it taken care of.
Think about how you feel after you haven’t gotten a good night’s sleep. I’ll use myself as an example; if I don’t get enough sleep, I’m usually irritable, I’m more likely to have a short temper, and I’m less likely to be able to focus. It’s just not a happy existence, really. And everyone reacts differently to not getting enough sleep. Think about the last time that you pulled an all nighter or you got woken up too early. How did you feel? Were you able to make good decisions? Did you feel like anything could set you off in a second?
That’s where this whole thing starts. Yes, it sounds simple, but those little mood swings that we get can actually end up causing us some mental health stress as well. If we have a mental health issue, it’s more likely to be exacerbated if we don’t get enough sleep. Some people will feel more anxious and on edge if they already have anxiety problems. Others may feel more depressed or, in cases of personality disorders, the mood swings could end up being a lot more severe than they were otherwise. The grip on reality and life becomes that much harder to hold on to.
Of course, mental health issues can cause sleep issues as well. Think about it; if you’re anxious, your stress levels are higher, which make it more difficult for you to get a restful night’s sleep. If you’re depressed, you may not have a lot of energy, but you may have difficulty sleeping because you didn’t actually do any physical activity during the day. Nightmares are common for some people who have mental health issues as well, and we all know how they disrupt sleep and make it more difficult for us to get a good night’s rest.
So, as you can see, mental health and sleep are intertwined, and if we don’t make sure that both are taken care of, they will start to hurt each other in a cyclical manner. It’s hard to get everything back in order, because it can start to spiral quickly, but if you take care of it right now, you can stop the cycle before it gets too difficult to deal with.
How Can I Make Sure I Get Better Sleep? There are a lot of ways that you can work to make sure that you get better sleep, and some of them will work for you, and others may not. It will take some time to get used to the changes, but once you get into the swing of things, you may find that your sleep is much better and that you are better able to get through your day, especially in the realms of mental health and emotional health. Here are some tips that can help you to get better sleep.
Get your sleep in a regular, healthy pattern – don’t let it go all over the place. This is hard for some people, especially students who may be in college or people who have odd work schedules. Even if you don’t have a consistent schedule, at least try to get your body into a regular pattern of sleeping that allows you to do what you need to do while getting a full night’s rest. Also, make sure that you aren’t having a split sleep schedule – you want to make sure that you get 6-9 hours of sleep straight through (7 to 8 is preferred) so that you can get through your REM cycles and other important parts of sleeping. Split sleep can actually make the whole thing worse. Creating this routine also means that you should probably consider eliminating those hour long afternoon naps too (which I know is disappointing for some of you).
Don’t eat too close to bedtime, especially if you have digestive issues that may cause you pain or discomfort after you have gone to bed. Eating too close to bedtime has its own set of issues that you have to deal with. It can make it so you have to get up and go to the bathroom. If you have acid reflux, the reflux could end up waking you up because of the discomfort and such that you may be feeling. Certain foods can also wake up your subconscious or give you energy, which makes it harder for you to get to sleep or stay asleep. If you have to eat or drink, drink something like an herbal tea or eat something like toast.
Make sure that the area that you sleep is ideal for what you need in terms of light, sound, temperature, and comfort. Your sleeping space is your sleeping space, so make it somewhere that you can enjoy sleeping and sleep well. Make sure that it is as dark as you can possibly get it, so that you don’t have to worry about getting woken up by the sun. You can use a sleeping mask to help with that, if it’s an issue. Keep the room at a temperature that you like, make sure that your mattress is comfortable, and be sure to get everything together so that you aren’t distracted before bed. Make the area ideal for your sleeping habits.
Try to make sure that you are not stressed out at all, and consider putting together a stress reducing routine before heading to bed. Stress is difficult to deal with, and a lot of people have a hard time dealing with it in a healthy way. Consider getting into a pattern before bed that helps to reduce stress, whether it’s journaling, taking a warm shower or bath, relaxing in the pool or hot tub, reading a book, or doing other things that help your body to chill out. By getting into a routine, your body will start to learn how to wind down at that point and you will be able to sleep easier and you will have less difficulty when you want to stay asleep, too.
Move a lot during the day – physical activity can help to wear your body out and make you ready for bed. Get up from your computer desk! We weren’t created to sit in front of the computer for the entire day. Get up and get moving so that you can let out some of your energy throughout the day. Also, it helps to reduce stress, it makes you tired, it helps you stay healthier, and it can reduce the effects of some negative things that may occur throughout the day. By getting regular exercise, your body will feel ready to go and you will feel like you are better able to cope with the daily stresses of life that may be preventing you from getting the good night’s sleep that you deserve and need to have.
Sometimes, sleeping issues can be a sign of a bigger problem, and because of that, you may want to talk to a healthcare specialist in order to figure those sorts of things out. There may be unanswered questions, stress that you haven’t been able to deal with, or other problems that you may have to work out for your life to get back in order. That being said, Theravive has plenty of resources that you can use to access a therapist in your area that can help you to start digging into your life and finding the reasons it’s hard for you to sleep. Sweet dreams!
Marti has a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology and a Master’s in Communication Studies. Her favorite activities include reading, playing games, and hanging out with the students at her church. Marti volunteers with the youth ministry at her church as a teacher and mentor. Because of this, she recently started another degree, her graduate certificate in student ministries. She considers her current graduate work to be a stepping stone to becoming a youth pastor or a published author. This article originally appeared on www.theravive.com.
Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School. (2008, December 15). Sleep and Mood.
Djonlagic, I. E. (2012, October 17). How Does Sleep Affect Mental Wellness?
Gregoire, C. (2013, June 25). Breaking Up: 7 Ways A Split Can Affect Your Physical And Mental Health.
Harvard Medical School. (2009, July). Sleep and mental health.
For more stories and tips that relate to the practice of mindfulness and relaxation, check out the following articles below:
The Tapping Solution – A Healing Modality
Forest Bathing: The Science Behind Its Positive Effects
When I Woke Up to Where My Anxiety Was Actually Coming From
Simple Mindfulness Techniques that Can Be Done Anywhere