Sleep and Mental Health

Rest has tremendous implications for our mental and physical health.

We need sleep to survive, but we also need sleep to thrive. We can tolerate a lack of sleep to an extent, but, eventually, our bodies will take over and we will fall asleep. Our bodies and minds need rest to function in the ways they are supposed to. 

When we rest, our minds process the events of the previous day; our thoughts, emotions, experiences, and we ready ourselves for the following day. There is a bidirectional relationship between rest and mental health. Sleep affects mental health, and mental health affects sleep. Insomnia, or not being able to sleep, is a known symptom of a variety of mental illnesses, including depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. Counterintuitively, hypersomnia, or sleeping too much, is also a known symptom of these mental illnesses. Extreme lack of sleep has been known to cause hallucinations, depression, suicidal thoughts, and can even mimic the symptoms of intoxication. 

When we don’t have the energy to get out of bed, we may feel lonelier and more isolated. Stress can also exacerbate these problems. What is truly amazing is that, although rest is so crucial, is that humans often struggle with it so greatly. 

So what do we do when sleep alludes us? As most of us know, sometimes you just can’t fall asleep.

Here are some tips to improve sleep hygiene:

  • Have a consistent bedtime and wakeup time. 
    • It can be tempting to stay up late on the nights before you don’t have to get up early for work or school, but this can make your sleep schedule much more difficult. Try going to bed and getting up at the same times each day for 2 weeks and see how it feels. 
  • Avoid electronics an hour before bed. 
    • It is no secret that the blue light that comes from phones, computers, and tablets can do damage to circadian rhythms. If you absolutely cannot avoid having your phone in bed with you, try wearing blue-light filtering glasses while you scroll.
  • Avoid caffeine in the afternoon.
    • Caffeine can affect your ability to fall asleep long after you stop drinking it. Try limiting yourself to drinking caffeinated drinks before noon or 1 pm or switching to decaf later in the day. 
  • Journal before bed. 
    • Sometimes, our brains will just not shut off when we are trying to rest. Journaling can help you to process the events of the day and give your brain permission to let those thoughts and ruminations go. 
  • Radical acceptance. 
    • Sleep anxiety begets insomnia. If you are anxious about not falling asleep, chances are, it will be harder to fall asleep. Next time you find yourself staring at your alarm clock and calculating exactly how much rest you can get if you fall asleep at this exact second, try taking a radical acceptance approach. Radical acceptance is a coping skill taught in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. This skill involves accepting exactly what is happening, what you are thinking, or what your thoughts are doing without judgment. If you can radically accept the fact that you might not fall asleep, you may be more able to relax and get some shut eye. Try saying to yourself “I might not get a lot of sleep tonight, and that is ok. I am resting my body, and that is just as important.”

Your body needs rest, and prioritizing rest is crucial for all forms of health. 

If you are having chronic sleep problems, either insomnia or hypersomnia, that cannot be linked to something behavioral, it is important to talk to your doctor. You might have a disorder that can be managed by medication or other behavioral modifications. 

If you are struggling with sleep related to any mental health issues, we can help. Give us a call today at 217-203-2008 or email us to schedule an appointment.