Tips on Using Sleep to Promote Better Mental Health

Published by on Thursday, February 4, 2021



There is no doubt that sleep is vital to human functioning. 1/3 of the average human life is spent in sleep, and most of us cannot go more than a day or so without it before our functioning begins to short-circuit.

Yet, for how significant a role it plays in everyday life, many people fail to get enough sleep each night and wake up feeling drowsy, groggy, and unmotivated. Over time, such practices take a toll on both the body and the mind [4].

Most scientists advise the average person to sleep for at least seven hours a night [4]. In truth, however, every person has their own unique needs.

If you sleep significantly less or significantly more than seven hours each night but wake up feeling fresh and rejuvenated, then you should certainly continue to do so. The “correct” amount of sleep for a person is the amount that leaves them feeling well-rested, regardless of how it compared to the general population.

Perceptions of Sleep

The mind has a powerful influence over the body, an influence that in severe cases, can override biological functions to wreak serious effects on everyday functioning. In the context of scientific research, placebos are inactive compounds that should have no impact on the body on the basis of biology alone; however, if a person believes that the placebo will cause a certain reaction, the body can essentially trick itself into carrying out this function, even in the absence of a true catalyst.

If you tell a person that a placebo will make them experience a sensation, they may well feel it, even if there’s no physical cause for such a perception [1].

Placebos offer a useful understanding of the relationship between the mind and the body, an understanding that extends to the context of sleep and exhaustion. Research has suggested that, even when people are getting more than enough sleep in a night, the mind can still trick the body into feeling exhausted [6].

In other words, simply believing that you are tired can make you feel drowsier. It’s important than that a person take care to accurately measure their quality of sleep. If you feel tired throughout the day, try not to jump to the conclusion of chronic sleep deprivation lest your beliefs make the theory a reality.

Of course, many people feel sleep-deprived because they genuinely are. Symptoms such as lethargy and a lack of motivation can be indicative of a sleep disorder that warrants treatment [6]. If there is a concern for the amount of sleep you are getting, certain medical tests can offer useful insights into your brain’s functioning during rest.

Causes of Poor Sleep

There is no one cause of poor sleep [4] [6]. What is clear is that sleep problems such as insomnia usually do not appear without cause. Sleep is a natural state for the body, so difficulty falling or staying asleep should be given proper attention. Consider both potential physical and mental stressors that could be interrupting your sleep: aches, pains, or outside distractions might be as much to blame as underlying patterns of anxiety or depression [2].

Sleep and Illness

Health and sleep are intertwined – you generally cannot have one without the other. Physical illness resulting in chronic pain can prevent the brain from relaxing. Oppositely, sleeping poorly can result in the body experiencing pain. Sleep is the time that the body recovers from the effort and stress that accumulates throughout the day. Without this opportunity to heal, the physical results will quickly become apparent [5].

Mental illness is not always as obvious to identify, but the relationship between brain health and sleep is just as significant. Anxiety can result in adrenaline that puts the body on high alert. In a nervous state, the body will actively fight off sleep, believing a physical threat requires its attention [2].

After a night of poor sleep, the mental distress can worsen on account of the lack of energy the tired mind experiences. When a person lacks the motivation to care for themselves as they need to, pre-existing ailments like depression can be exacerbated greatly.

Once a person has started to experience poor sleep, it can seem like a negative cycle that is impossible to break: the lack of sleep takes a toll on the body and the mind; consequently, pain and anxiety then prevent the brain from settling into the rest state it craves.

Developing healthy sleep practices that promote deep rest can reap incredible gains for the exhausted individual, improving their health both on the physical and the mental level. While not every practice will benefit everyone struggling to sleep, taking steps to improve sleep function is a significant step in living a happy, fulfilling life.

Tips for Better Sleep

1. Before Bed

Get into a routine of preparing the mind and body for bed at least 30 minutes before sleep. As the brain becomes accustomed to the regular schedule, it will learn when it needs to begin shutting off, making it significantly easier to fall asleep when you are ready. A useful, sleep-friendly routine includes:

  • Consuming warm, relaxing, caffeine-free beverages; caffeine is a stimulant that can get the mind racing, so coffees and sodas should probably be avoided for several hours before bed. Certainly don’t consume caffeine in the 30 minutes before settling beneath the blankets
  • Avoiding strenuous activity; when the heart starts racing, it signals to the mind that now is a time to stay alert. Exercise before bed is ill-advised, though practices like simple yoga routines could potentially be beneficial. Whatever activities you partake in, be sure that they are not increasing the heart rate
  • Turning off screens and fluorescent lights; artificial light is difficult to avoid, but screens on a phone or laptop shine blue-wave light directly into your eyes. Blue light acts in the body to boost awareness and elevate performance, the exact opposite of what your mind needs as you wind down in the evening. Opt for reading a book are chatting with a roommate – whatever gets your eyes off of your screens [7]
  • Showering or bathing; a steamy bath or shower can make for a soothing experience that relaxes the body. Close your eyes and let the hot water put your muscles at ease; in addition to feeling clean, your relaxed state will help you to fall asleep [2] [3]

2. As You Get in Bed

Use the final moments before bed wisely. Create a space conducive to sleep to avoid lying awake or being awoken abruptly by an unexpected sound or sight. Helpful considerations as you prepare for sleep include:

  • Shutting the curtains; humans are diurnal creature designed to sleep in the dark. The circadian rhythm that oversees this process is easily interrupted by light, so do not let passing headlights or neighbours prevent sleep if you can help it [5]
  • Wearing earplugs; while it might be uncomfortable for some individuals, if you live in a busy area or share the bed with a loud snorer, earplugs can mitigate the chances of a rude awakening come midnight. If you find yourself picking up on every little sound as you lie in bed, consider picking up a pair of earplugs to block out the worst of the distractions [5]
  • Spraying lavender; aromatic scents like lavender tend to put the body at ease. If the smell of lavender relaxes your body and soothes your mind, many pillow sprays are available that can help you to slip off into sleep
  • Avoid stressing; as hard as it is, do not get frustrated with your ongoing sleeplessness. Stop yourself from checking the clock repeatedly or from calculating the hours you have left to sleep, as stress will only contribute to the issue. Focus on a safe imagined space or, if you are not asleep after 30 minutes, get up and do something boring until you feel tired. Do not do anything that will excite the body or stimulate the mind

3. At Any Time

Outside establishing a schedule, there are a few additional things you can do to improve your sleep every night. These include:

  • Devoting the bedroom to sleep; in particular, do not lie on the bed except when falling asleep at night. If the bed is associated only with sleep, the mind will know to begin shutting down as soon as you lie down. Relax on the sofa or a bench outside; reserve the bedroom for sleep and sleep alone.
  • Avoiding naps (if possible); if you are sleeping throughout the day, you are less likely to be tired come night. If you are too tired to function and need to nap, limit the rest to just 20 minutes and try not to make a habit of it.
  • Replacing blankets, pillows, and the mattress; a stiff, worn mattress or scratchy sheet is not doing your sleep cycle any favours. Replace bed linens and the mattress if and when they are no longer comfortable. While you might be tempted to power through on a lumpy mattress a while longer, your sleep is too important to sacrifice.

References

[1] Beecher, H. K. (1955). The powerful placebo. JAMA, 159 (17), 1602-1606.

[2] Dewald-Kaufmann, J.F., Oort, F. J. & Meijer, A. M. (2013). The effects of sleep extension and sleep hygiene advice on sleep and depressive symptoms in adolescents: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 55 (3).

[3] Friedrich, A. & Schlarb, A. A. (2017). Let’s talk about sleep: a systematic review of psychological interventions to improve sleep in college students. Journal of Sleep Research, 27 (1).

[4] Luyster, F. S., Strollo, P. J., Zee, P. C. & Walsh, J. K. (2012). Sleep: A health imperative. Sleep, 35 (6), 727-734.

[5] Richardson, A., Allsop, M., Coghill, E. & Turnock, C. (2007). Earplugs and eye masks: do they improve critical care patients’ sleep? Nursing in Critical Care, 12 (6).

[6] Zee, P. C. & Turek, F. W. (2006). Sleep and Health: Everywhere and in Both Directions. Arch Intern Med, 166 (16), 1686-1688.

[7] Zerbini, G.; Kantermann, T. & Merrow, M. (2018). Strategies to decrease social jetlag: Reducing evening blue light advances sleep and melatonin. European Journal of Neuroscience, 51 (12).

 

Keith stopped using drugs and drinking alcohol more than 10 years ago. He now spends a lot of time writing and editing content for this website. His mission is to assist people who are also looking to embrace addiction recovery. Keith believes a key way to accomplish this goal is through his writing.

Request Call Back

Leave your details and we will discreetly call you back. All calls are completely confidential.




    Please enter the number into the box: captcha

    Do you need…

    Help for yourself?
    Help for a friend or loved one?

    We can help: call us now.

    "Thank you for helping me to make the right choice for myself and my family." 
    Sheila, Chelmsford (Read More)

    MapWith Clinics throughout the UK we can help you get back on track

    Contact Us

    We accept most private
    health insurers

    Health Insurers
    |