Sleep & Mental Health

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Sleep is a really important part of everyone’s health and well-being, but if you are suffering with mental health problems, sleep is probably more important to you than ever. So what is good sleep hygiene? when the words ‘sleep hygiene’ are used it basically means, the quality of sleep you are getting at night, are you getting enough? are you sleeping at the right times?  There are different stages to our sleep through out the night that can repeat themselves throughout but the main stages are: The first stages when you are in a light sleep and you are easy to awaken, you then go into a deep sleep, where your fully relaxed and difficult to awaken, the last stage of sleep is ‘Dream Sleep’ the sleep where you are most likely to dream and remember your dreams when you awake.  These stages are very important for your well-being physically and mentally.

During the many years I have suffered with Depression, Anxiety and OCD, a lot of the time I had a terrible sleeping pattern where I would be going to sleep at 5.00 am sometimes later than that, and I would awaken sometimes at the latest 3.00 pm in the afternoon. You may think ‘that’s still a lot of hours of sleep?’ but I wasn’t getting the same quality of sleep I would have if I’d gone to bed say 12.00 am and woke up at 8.00 am, I was sleeping most of the day and staying awake most of the night, our body’s aren’t meant to do this. From my experience I never felt like I was getting enough sleep when I was going to bed at these weird times, my moods where lower than ever and when people where coming home from work and relaxing ready for sleep, I was most awake because I’d only been up for the day about 5 hours, so that night I’d want to stay up even longer because to my body the day wasn’t over yet, I’d barely had any time awake for the day! My parents and psychologists all told me this would be no good for my OCD and Depression, but I didn’t see how it would make that much of a difference, I now know first hand since changing my sleeping pattern, it does!

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During the deep sleep phases of the sleep cycle, this is where your body is fully relaxed and your body repairs itself and builds new bone and muscle, it also strengthens the immune system. During the ‘dream sleep’ stages, your brain is more active which is why people are more likely to dream in this stage of the sleep cycle,  your brain renews itself so you are able to learn and take in new information the next day. Everyone has had a bad nights sleep or not got enough sleep and woken up bad-tempered, moody, fatigued and lacking in concentration throughout the day. Imagine all of those emotions on top of suffering with a mental illness, where your brain is chemically imbalanced as it is, your just adding fuel to the fire!

If you are an adult you should be getting 7.5-8 hours sleep a night, to make sure you’re getting the best sleep you possibly can, you should regulate your bed time, have a routine each night where you try to go to bed at the same time and awaken at the same time.  Try to relax before you go to bed, this will help you sleep easier, have a bath, read a book and try not to spend too much time in front of a laptop or TV before you go to bed (which I struggle with most).  Another myth is that eating before bed isn’t good for you and can effect your sleep, but in fact if you are hungry before you sleep this can make you restless and unable to get to sleep as your body wants food,  if you feel you need something to eat, try to eat something light.

Since sorting out my sleeping pattern I have seen a dramatic change in my energy levels and how alert I am. I am more able to cope with daily life, without it feeling like such an effort, my mood isn’t as low and I am a lot calmer with people. I am able to process my feelings easier, I feel more in control of my emotions, anxiety and OCD. It also helps me take my tablets for these problems at regular times making them more effective!

Sleep will not CURE all your problems, but it could make a big difference to you, this and cutting out caffeine, which I wrote a blog post on that you can read HERE and a healthy diet which I will do a blog post on soon. Getting enough sleep not only increases the chances of weight loss but if your like me and tend to eat to comfort yourself,  your mood won’t be as bad there for making you crave food less!

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