A guest post from the Sleep Help Institute
What does sleep have to do with your mental health? A lot more than you may realise. Your body doesn’t just shut down while you sleep. It changes how it works to clean up the mess we make during our daily activities. The whole process is absolutely vital to your mental health. And, there are ways to enhance your sleep if you’re not getting enough.
Keep Those Emotions in Check
The average person needs anywhere from 7 to 10 hours of sleep, depending on their age. If you’re getting less than that, your brain changes the way it handles emotions and that can be tough on your mental health.
When you’re tired, the part of your brain that processes emotions becomes ultra-sensitive to anything negative, including thoughts and feelings. At the same time that you’ve got those negative thoughts bouncing around, the area of the brain that normally keeps things in check gets quiet.
The combination of one part of the brain getting overreactive and the other taking a nap is an increase in irritability, aggression, sadness, and anxiety. In fact, poor sleep is common with anxiety and depression because it magnifies many of their other symptoms.
Clean the Mental Highways
Your emotions aren’t the only thing that get affected when you’re tired. At night, your brain flushes out harmful proteins and toxins that build up during daily activities. There’s a special system that takes care of this process that’s 90 percent more active while you’re asleep versus when you’re awake.
If you don’t give it at least seven hours to do its job, that brain waste stays in place. It clogs your communication highways, which can slow down your thinking and reaction times. That foggy brain feeling you get when you’re tired will only get worse if things don’t get cleaned up.
Live for Better Sleep
Your body is designed to adapt the timing and duration of the sleep cycle to your schedule. However, you have to be sending it the right signals to consistently get the rest you need. There are specific things you can do at night and throughout the day to help with this process.
- Set a bedtime: A consistent bedtime trains your brain to release sleep hormones in anticipation of your bedtime. The same holds true for waking up. If you can keep a consistent time there as well, your brain will adapt and follow your schedule as long as you stay predictable
- Embrace a bedtime routine: Bedtime routines act both as a transition time and as a trigger for the start of your sleep cycle. If stress and tension are still plaguing you, consider adding meditation, yoga, or a warm bath to your routine. Anything that leaves you calm and relaxed can work as long as you perform them all in the same order and at roughly the same time
- Get comfortable: A mattress that supports your weight and sleep style along with comfortable, breathable bedding are vital. Also, be sure to turn down the thermostat, keep out light, and block out noise
- Self monitor the use of screens: Smartphones, laptops, and televisions give off a bright light that can suppress sleep hormones. As much fun as it is to stay in touch with the world, try to shut it down two to three hours before bed so you can fall asleep
Sleep is as important to your mental health as diet and exercise. Luckily, small changes can make a big difference. Pick one way you’re going to help yourself sleep better. From there, keep adding small habits like less screen time and regular exercise so you can get all the rest you need.
Visit the Sleep Help Institute at sleephelp.org