Improving your sleep quality goes hand-in-hand with improving your wellbeing
It’s no secret that sleep is an important part of staying healthy. It gives your body the rest it needs, but it’s also vital for your mental wellbeing too. Around one in four people experience a mental health problem every year, and as many as 16 million UK adults suffer from sleepless nights, with more than two thirds (67%) having experienced disrupted sleep.
Over the course of 2020, Google reported that “insomnia” searches increased to their highest ever levels, coinciding with 56% of the UK population suffering from heightened stress or anxiety.
Improving your sleep quality and quantity can help better prepare you for what the day brings, preventing you from feeling overwhelmed. We’re going to take a closer look at just how interlinked sleep and mental health are, exploring the various ways you can utilise sleep to improve your wellbeing overall.
Bad sleep and mental health concerns create a vicious cycle
Living with a mental health condition can have a direct impact on how well you sleep, while poor sleep can have a negative impact on your mental health. This creates a vicious cycle which can feel impossible to break. Lack of sleep leads to tiredness, which often leads to difficulty coping with daily life. This can lead to low self-esteem, which creates stress and worry, which creates lack of sleep.
Insomnia and broken sleep are symptoms of many common mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety. A lack of sleep can also act as a causal factor in these conditions, making you more susceptible to stress and negativity.
To ensure mental stability, sleep is vital
High quality sleep is as important as eating, drinking and even breathing. It can have a positive impact on both your physical and mental health because your brain consolidates memories and processes information, as well as managing hormone levels.
For example, sleep can have a direct influence on your cortisol levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone released by the adrenal glands. In manageable doses, cortisol helps your body deal with stressful situations, but when your cortisol levels are too high it can actually contribute to stress, as well as weight gain, high blood pressure, sleep problems, low energy and even diabetes.
Research has found that quality, timing and length of sleep can all have an effect on your cortisol levels. One study found that shift workers who slept during the day had higher levels of cortisol, and another found that insomnia can cause high cortisol for up to 24 hours. Even brief interruptions to sleep can cause a spike in hormone levels, making you more susceptible to stress and fatigue.
Sleep is critical for our memory, learning and outlook. It can also strengthen your immune system, making depression or anxiety as a result of physical illness less likely.
Addressing stressors can improve your sleep
Sleep problems like insomnia are often the result of a wider issue. In many cases, this may be anxiety fuelled by factors in your life which are making you feel stressed. In a recent study, 74% of UK adults admitted to feeling so stressed at some point over the last year they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.
The main causes of stress among UK adults are work, money and health problems, but relationship issues and family concerns are also common factors. Social media is another rising cause of stress, leading to paranoia, loneliness and depression. Any one of these stressors can increase your risk of sleeplessness.
For many people, the key to improving sleep health is to uncover exactly what is causing the stress that makes it difficult to sleep. Sometimes this stress can’t be attributed to one specific factor, but learning to manage wider stressors in your daily life can help to improve your sleep management. So whether it’s work, finances or too much screen-time, positive lifestyle changes can help to improve both your mental health and your sleep, launching you out of your vicious cycle.
Best practice for a good night’s sleep
One of the most effective ways to pinpoint exactly what is causing your sleep issues is to keep a sleep diary. By noting down the times you sleep, the number of hours you sleep and the quality of your sleep alongside other factors like medication, physical activity, diet and mood, you can gain a clearer idea of what is making a good night’s sleep feel so impossible.
Making changes to your bedtime routine can also help to improve your sleep. Ensure your bedroom is cool and dark, and avoid caffeine and alcohol in the hours leading up to turning in for the night. Try to avoid bright screens like your smartphone for at least an hour before bed, as this encourages your body’s release of melatonin, our natural sleep hormone. Instead, try reading or meditating as a way to wind down.
Making small changes like these can help you sleep better, which in turn can work towards improving the symptoms of your mental health concerns. Likewise, addressing your mental health concerns head-on can help you enjoy a better quality sleep.
According to the World Health Organisation, between a third and half of people suffering from severe mental health problems receive no treatment. In many cases, this is because they do not seek support. No one should have to suffer in silence when it comes to mental health, so don’t be afraid to ask the advice of friends, family or your GP.