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  • The Importance of Sleep for Your Mental Health

    A guest blog by Christine Huegel, Sleep Advisor

    If you are like the average person, you are likely inundated with responsibilities and stressors on a daily basis — which can unfortunately push important things like sleep, relaxation, and mental health to the backburner.  However, as mental health disorders are increasingly sweeping society, it’s important to recognize what can aid to poor mental health, and how to prevent it. Quality of sleep is a common factor in determining a person’s mental health, and fortunately it is something that we can manipulate, in a world full of the uncontrollable. Take a seat, and get comfortable, because we are going to dive right into the relationship between sleep and mental health and hopefully convince you to make proper sleep a priority tonight, and every night.

    Why Sleep is So Important

    The National Association for Mental Illness says sleep contributes to how successfully we maintain good mental health. When we don’t sleep enough, that can be both a symptom of mental illness and can exacerbate conditions like anxiety or depressive disorders. Additionally, as our bodies experience sleep deprivation, we are more likely to have hormone disruption, increased stress levels and emotional instability.

    Have you noticed that when you’re lacking sleep you are more irritable, sensitive, and maybe even impulsive? There’s a reason for that. When we lack the sleep we need, the amygdala — which is in charge of our emotional responses — goes into overdrive as it requires sleep to allow the brain to process emotions. Just like the amygdala, the prefrontal cortex can’t do its job properly when we don’t sleep well, which has a lot to do with the disruption of communication between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex. The disruption of both of these makes us very vulnerable to erratic behavior, increased emotional reaction, and mood swings.

    Similar to how our emotions are affected when we do not get proper rest, we know that lack of sleep causes a chemical imbalance in your brain (i.e. our hormones). Our hormones influence our weight, mood, growth, healing, and much more and when we do not sleep, the communication between the brain and its “messengers” send misinformation to our hormones, which in turn, send misinformation to the body. Our bodies are at a huge risk when our brain is mis-sending vital information to our hormones or bodies — that is why sleep is so crucial to our mental health.

    Sleep & Mental Health

    Sleep disorders, like insomnia (trouble sleeping) and hypersomnia (sleeping too much) are one of the biggest indicators of a mental health disorder. Growing research is showing that sleep deficits will also heighten symptoms and contribute to the risk for developing anxiety and depressive disorders.

    Here’s what we know:

    • Sleep disorders are more common among those with mental illness
    • It’s very likely that treatment for sleep disorders will alleviate symptoms of mental health disorders
    • Lack of sleep can worsen mental illness
    • Those with mental health disorders often spend time in lighter, less restorative stages of REM sleep, which is critical to health and healing

    Remedies for Better Sleep

    Sleepless nights are common among many, but if you’re experiencing chronic sleeplessness and not getting the required 7-8 hours of sleep every night, a few changes to your bedtime routine could promote a more restful night.

    • Bedtime Yoga – Yoga has both physical and emotional benefits, that invoke relaxation in both your body and your mind. If you’re stressed throughout the day or have anxious thoughts before bed, give yourself this time to decompress, clear your mind, and focus on your breath and movements. Studies have shown that doing yoga before bedtime can help fight insomnia, as the calming yoga positions can help you fall asleep more easily and get a deeper, more restorative night’s rest.
    • Essential Oils – Natural oils from Lavender, Chamomile, and Frankincense can be applied to the body or released into the air to promote relaxation in the evening. Aromatherapy can be a great alternative to sleeping pills.
    • Herbal Tea – Herbal tea before bed can be another way to remedy sleepless nights and help you feel relaxed and sleepy. Certain teas can create calming effects in your mind and body. Try Chamomile, Lavender, Peppermint, and/or Valerian teas that do not have caffeine and have sedative-like effects on the body.
    • Power Down – For a proper bedtime routine, it’s critical to remove electronic devices from your bedroom. The strong blue light which is emitted from smartphones, laptops, and TVs disrupt sleep by signaling to your brain that it’s time to start your day. Additionally, it suppresses hormones that help you sleep, such as melatonin. If you’re experiencing sleepless nights, swap out electronics for a warm bath or book in bed.

    If you struggle with dark moods, depression, or anxiety, make sure you are getting enough shut-eye.

    The good news is that treating sleep problems can also alleviate and lessen the severity of symptoms for mental health disorders. Just feeling rested and able to cope with your mental illness is a step in the right direction!

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