7 Easy Steps for Better Sleep and a Healthier Mind

O sleep! O gentle sleep! Nature’s soft nurse, how have I frighted thee, That thou no more wilt weigh my eyelids down, And steep my senses in forgetfulness? – William Shakespeare

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In case you are not active on social media (or at least paying attention to the calendar), you might have missed the fact that Monday, March 13, was the National Napping Day. If you are like me and tend to notice strange things happening, you probably asked yourself, “Who comes up with these ‘Days’?”

According to the National Day Calendar website, the date marks the return of daylight saving time, which means you get the extra hour of sleep lost when the time was moved forward. The website goes on to add that Boston University Professor William Anthony, and his wife, Camille Anthony, created this Napping Day to highlight the health benefits of sleep.

Finally, something we can agree on!

A key part of having a healthy mind and warding off problems like depression is through giving your body the amount of sleep time it needs.

There have been numerous studies on sleep and its role in the human experience. You have heard from various sources that you need to get 6-8 hours of sleep in order to be fully rested and be able to function optimally during the day.

Some leaders have been rumoured to sleep for less than the recommended hours. For instance, in a BBC article, former U.K Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s press secretary, Sir Bernard Ingham, said she only “slept four hours a night on weekdays”. In the U.S., it has been said that President Donald Trump doesn’t sleep much either, with that reputation coming about because he was tweeting at 3 O’clock in the morning during the 2016 presidential campaign.

But why is sleep so important for mental health?

The Science of Sleep

Circadian Neuroscientist Russell Foster gave a speech at a TED Global Conference in 2013, citing three scientific reasons for why we sleep. In a transcript of his speech on the TED website, he noted that sleep is used for body restoration, energy conservation, and brain processing and memory consolidation.

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Professor Foster also linked a lack of sufficient sleep with poor mental health. He said, “We’ve known for 130 years that in severe mental illness, there is always, always sleep disruption, but it’s been largely ignored. He added, “…mental illness and sleep are not simply associated, but they are physically linked within the brain. The neural networks that predispose you to normal sleep, give you normal sleep, and those that give you normal mental health, are overlapping.”

In 2009, Harvard University released a newsletter on Sleep and Mental Health, which showed that a 1989 study had found that those who had sleeping problems were more likely to develop major depression a few years later. Other studies also showed that those who were depressed were less likely to respond to treatment. If you can’t treat the problem, then how are you supposed to get better? It’s no wonder then, that the depressed patients with sleeping problems started contemplating suicide.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) highlights the negative effects that depression can have on one’s life. They include insomnia, drastic weight changes, hopelessness, low self-esteem, lack of energy or interest, and physical aches.

With such life-changing effects, there is a great need for everyone to start getting quality sleep.

How to Sleep Better

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According to the American Psychological Association, leading sleep researchers came up with several techniques to help you get some sleep:

  • Have a sleep schedule – You have to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. This will condition your body to know when to shut down for sleep and when to wake up.
  • Avoid caffeine a few hours to sleep time – Caffeine is a stimulant that will keep your body active when you are supposed to be sleeping.
  • Exercise regularly – Working out every day will make your body tired and thus you will crave sleep at night.
  • Minimise sleep distracters – Excessive noise, temperature, and light can affect your ability to sleep. You need to find a quiet, dark room with a comfortable sleeping surface in order to sleep well.
  • Try to wake up without an alarm clock – This might be difficult for some, but doing this will let your body decide when you have had enough sleep. With this method, you no longer have to worry about sleep debt caused by cutting your sleep short using an alarm clock.
  • Avoid taking alcohol or smoking – These substances contain chemicals or effects that can affect your ability to sleep.
  • Go to bed earlier than usual – Sleeping early will ensure that you are getting sufficient sleep.

I would also add that since some people have medical conditions that might affect their ability to sleep, it would be a great idea to talk to a doctor, who will decide whether you need medication or sleeping aids to help you sleep.

As you can see, sleep is an important component of our lives. Not only does it affect our productivity, but also our mental and physical health. When depression arises from sleep deprivation, it can lead to other health complications and, eventually, to suicide. So take your sleep seriously, it could save your life.

Sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together. – Thomas Dekker

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