Do you maintain a well-balanced diet? Do you exercise regularly? Do you brush your teeth at least twice a day?
If you answered “yes” to all these questions, you’re probably living a healthy lifestyle. After all, food, water, exercise, and personal hygiene are the most important things a person must maintain in their daily life. As long as they are functional at work or school, can still meet deadlines, and do the bare minimum, they must be doing well.
Sadly, most people are missing a very important piece of the puzzle.
Sleep is the most underrated component of health. When people are short on time, sleep is typically the first thing that gets sacrificed. Many regard sleep as a luxury and even believe that restricting the amount of time they spend in bed is beneficial.
We put emphasis on maintaining a well-balanced diet and getting regular exercise. While good nutrition and physical exercise are essential to good health, let's not forget the fact that getting enough sleep is just as important.
Just think about these questions: When was the last time you had 7–8 hours of sleep? Do you find yourself oversleeping during the weekend? Do you feel well-rested after completing 8 hours of sleep, or do you feel rather tired?
If you don't feel good about your answers, you’re not alone. Sleep problems affect 50–70 million Americans of all ages and income levels, and they’re common in both men and women. Almost 70% of adults say that they don't get enough sleep at least once a month, and 11% say they don't get enough sleep every night.
The Health Benefits of Sleep
Sleep and physical health
Mental and physical health are directly linked to sleep. Getting a good night's sleep helps your heart and blood vessels recover and repair. Sleep is when the body does most of its important healing work. This includes things like tissue repair, muscle growth, and protein synthesis.
The body's systems become disordered when you don't get enough sleep, which causes cardiovascular morbidity, diabetes, obesity, and loss of cognitive function.
Sleep is also important for healthy growth and development. The hormones that help children and adolescents grow, build muscles, regulate puberty and fertility, and repair cells and tissues are released when we’re asleep. However, if someone doesn't get enough sleep, their body won't be able to produce enough collagen, which keeps skin elastic and firm, making them look tired the next day.
Healthy bodies, better immune systems, and longer lives have all been proven to be linked to getting enough sleep.
Sleep and mental health
Sleep and mental health go hand in hand. Mental health problems can negatively affect the quality of sleep. Conversely, poor sleep can have a negative effect on mental health.
Studies show that sleep deprivation increases the frequency of mental health problems. Sleep problems can impair different aspects of our lives. Daytime drowsiness is a factor in a student’s academic success and an employee’s work performance. Sleep deprivation increases the likelihood of interpersonal conflicts as sleep and mood are intertwined. Furthermore, a person who doesn’t get enough sleep is likely to get into serious driving accidents.
It works the other way too. Sleep and depression are closely linked together. Around 75% of people with depression suffer from insomnia. This doesn’t come as a surprise, as poor sleep has been repeatedly linked to different mental health conditions. Chronic sleep problems are common in people who have mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or ADHD.
Sleep and mental health work together to allow your body and mind to recuperate from the day's stress. But if you’ve been finding it difficult to sleep, this can cause different mental health problems.
We perform better and make better decisions after a good night's sleep. By getting enough sleep, you’ll find yourself more attentive, optimistic, and socially adept.
Types of Sleep Disorders
The relationship between sleep and mental health is so closely connected that it can cause a person to develop sleep disorders. The American Psychiatric Association defines sleep disorders as “problems with the quality, timing, and amount of sleep, which result in daytime distress and impairment in functioning.”
There are several types of sleep disorders that can affect our mental health, some of which are the following:
- Insomnia: The most common sleep disorder; it makes it hard for a person to fall asleep and stay asleep. It results in fatigue, irritability, and mood changes.
- Sleep apnea: A serious medical condition in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep. Untreated sleep apnea can cause high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and other serious health problems.
- Restless legs syndrome (RLS): This happens when there’s an uncontrollable urge to move your legs, accompanied by an unpleasant crawling or creeping sensation in the legs. RLS can cause difficulty falling and staying asleep, making the person feel tired the next day.
- Narcolepsy: A long-term condition that affects a person’s ability to stay awake during the day. It can be as severe as falling asleep while working, eating, or driving a car.
- Circadian rhythm sleep disorder: Occurs when the body’s internal clock and the external light-dark cycle fall out of sync, which is very common for night shift employees. This misalignment can cause other sleep problems and excessive sleepiness during the day.
Causes of Sleep Disorders
Aside from different mental health problems that can cause sleep disorders, other factors can also have an impact on our sleep:
- Physical pain like headaches
- Beverages such as alcohol or coffee
- Environmental issues, like when the room is too bright or noisy
Self-Help for Sleep Disorders
Sleep problems can cause serious mental health conditions, so it’s important to develop good sleep hygiene that can improve the quality of your sleep. Here are some tips for better sleep:
- Create a relaxing bedroom environment: Make your bedroom comfy, cool, quiet, and dark for a good night's sleep. If noise outside keeps you awake, consider white noise or earplugs. Try a sleep mask or blackout curtains if light bothers you.
- Make sleep your priority: With a family, career, and social obligations, getting enough sleep can be difficult. If you want to make sleep your priority, you need to keep a consistent sleep schedule. However, you may need to skip some of these activities to obtain enough sleep.
- Avoid stimulants: Night cravings are hard to resist, but if you really want something to drink in the evening, you can opt for something light like milk or yogurt. Another popular drink to calm anxiety and help people fall asleep is lavender and chamomile tea.
- Invest in quality bedding: It can be your mattress or pillow that's keeping you awake. Our bodies emit heat at night, so we need bedding that doesn't trap it. You’ll use it every night for many years, or maybe even a lifetime, so consider upgrading to natural, breathable sheets like cotton, silk, or linen.
- Ditch your electronics before bedtime: Many studies have found that using a mobile phone or laptop before bedtime affects the quantity and quality of sleep. Instead of scrolling down your social media feed, you’d be better off clearing your mind through journaling, listening to relaxing music, or doing breathing exercises.
- Your bed is for sleeping only: If it’s been a habit of yours to watch Netflix, eat, or work in bed, it’s about time to stop doing this. Your bed must be a place solely for sleeping and taking a rest.
- Exercise regularly and keep a healthy diet: A lot of people who have sleep disorders are less active and more likely to overeat than people who don't have them. Maintaining a well-balanced diet and regular exercise can help improve the overall quality of your sleep.
Some sleep disorders require professional treatment from an expert. If you’ve tried the tips above without success, it would be in your best interest to schedule an appointment with a sleep specialist or mental health professional.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most widely used sleep disorder therapy. It can be done alone or in a group of people with similar issues. CBT helps you identify harmful thinking patterns that contribute to the sleep disorder and replace them with more positive and accurate thoughts. The causes and symptoms of sleep disturbances vary widely, so the approach must be customizable to fit your needs.
CBT can also be done online. Online therapy has been shown to relieve anxiety and depression symptoms. Due to this, online counseling is rapidly becoming more popular than in-person therapy. Online therapy is more affordable, convenient, and comfortable, especially for people who prefer communicating online.
Treat sleep like your life depends on it – because it does. Sleep problems can impair different aspects of your life, including your physical and mental health.
If you're always tired during the day, or if not getting enough sleep makes it hard to do everyday tasks, don’t hesitate to ask for help. You can start online therapy today with DoMental, and we’ll help you sleep better.