Ask anyone who has been deprived of sleep…sleep is a BIG deal. Without it, people are irritable, stressed, tired, depressed and anxious. You cannot overestimate the roll of sleep in a person’s mental health. In fact, studies have shown that depriving an individual of sleep for a few days can create psychiatric symptoms! http://berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2007/10/22_sleeploss.shtml
One of the most common complaints I hear in my office is that people are not sleeping. This can fall into many different categories and it is important to identify which type of sleep struggle a person is having. It can be difficulty falling asleep, waking up multiple times at night and not being able to go back to sleep, and/or waking up feeling exhausted after getting not-enough sleep. How much sleep is ‘enough’ may vary slightly for each individual, but somewhere between 7-8 hours per night is ideal.
If you fall into the first category of people who cannot fall asleep, there are many things that can be done to improve your ‘sleep hygiene’. A before-bed routine is essential to cue the brain that it is time to settle down and sleep. Body temperature is also a key factor for being able to sleep. Your body needs to be cool enough to sleep, so often taking a bath or shower before bed can help regulate this. Lastly, eliminating screen time 2 hours before trying to sleep can help your mind calm down. For many people, the stimulation to the brain from the light on a screen, (TV or internet) can keep the brain awake for hours. Another thing to check for is anxiety. Is your mind racing before bed? Are you unable to turn off your brain? If you have tried other things and they are not working, you may benefit from some counseling or therapy to get to the root of the anxiety. Working through the anxiety may be the key to getting to sleep.
If you are a person who wakes up multiple times at night, it is important to identify what is waking you. It could be a nightmare, or a sound that wakes you. Many people are unaware of why they wake up. The key here is also whether or not you can fall back asleep. If you cannot, there may be something going on for you that is causing the sleeplessness. Waking up for no identifiable reason and not being able to go back to sleep can be a sign of depression. Here, again, depending on the triggers and what is going on in your mind when you are waking up, counseling may be an important step to finding out what is going on. Visiting a medical doctor may be helpful as well, to rule out any physical issues going on.
Lastly, if you wake up and feel exhausted in the morning, a medical exam would be a first step. It is important to check to see if there are any imbalances or physical triggers for your exhaustion. If there are none, it may be that you are very stressed or potentially depressed. After checking out the potential physical triggers, seeking therapy to address the underlying symptoms may provide the relief you need to begin to find restful sleep again.
There is so much more to the connection between sleep and mental health, but hopefully this brief summary can give a starting point for understanding and finding solutions. If you are suffering with a sleep disturbance, please call a medical doctor or a mental health professional. It is not worth suffering any longer!