Sleep–A Natural Resource for Mental Health

Ken Corr

Rested, Renewed, and Ready?

When was the last time you had a really good night’s sleep? Do you remember how you felt when you awoke—rested, renewed, and ready for the day? Now, remember how you felt after a fitful night of sleep. My guess is that you were sluggish, out of sorts, irritable, and not ready for anything! We all experience these times occasionally, and they serve as reminders to us that sleep is important for our mental and emotional wellbeing. Sleep is a natural mood manager, and if you are not sleeping well, this could, over time, lead to depression and anxiety.

Sleep Sets the Standard

The average adult needs between 7-9 hours of sleep each night for optimum health, while the average teenager needs 8-10 hours. But for many of us, staying up late has become part of our routine, and we have accepted sleep deprivation as our new normal. The recurring effects of this phenomenon are no doubt impacting our mental and emotional wellbeing.

In a typical mental health assessment, one of the primary questions we ask you about is sleep. A treatment plan will probably include some suggestions for sleep. For those who are suffering from diagnosable depression or anxiety, the treatment plan may even require medication support for sleep. The common anti-anxiety/depression medication called Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) is not only a mood manager, but also a sleep manager. For those who are not in need of medication support, we can offer you some other helpful suggestions for better sleep.

Schedules & Sleeping Environments

One suggestion for better sleep is to get on a regular set schedule. Sleep requires rhythm—it is not just about the number of hours you sleep, but the rhythm of that sleep. Some might think that you can catch up on sleep over the weekend or when your projects are complete; however, doing so does not compensate for the need of a regular rhythm of sleep.

The best plan is to go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time each day. Think about when you have to get up each day and then back that up by the number of hours that you need. If you must be up by 6:30 a.m. for work or school and you need 9 hours of sleep, you must be in bed each night by 9:30 p.m. For many of us, that will require a whole new schedule to plan around.

Another suggestion is that you use your bed only for sleep. Some like to read in bed, do work in bed, watch TV in bed, or even eat in bed. The bed becomes another office or entertainment center, rather than a safe sanctuary for rest. Sleep experts will tell you that you need to create an environment where the body and mind know that when we lie in bed, we are going to sleep. This separation of space facilitates falling to sleep faster.

Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep

Finally, use the last minutes before sleep for gratitude. What is the last thing that you think about before sleep? Too often, it is: What do I need to do tomorrow? What did I not get done today? What am I feeling anxious about? The end result is tossing and turning, thus interrupting your sleep. Research shows that if we let gratitude be the last thing we think about before falling asleep, we go to sleep faster and more soundly. Make a gratitude list in your mind and then remember to count these blessings as you turn out the light.

These may be just a few simple changes, but they can make a big difference. If you are not sleeping well, implement these changes, and see if you can begin to sleep more soundly and feel better.