It’s Simple: Better Sleep = Better Mental Health
By Cheryl Conklin
The alarm goes off. You lift your head from the pillow to check the time and, though only half awake, you try to do a quick calculation. It’s been five hours since your head hit the pillow, and four hours since you actually fell asleep. You untangle yourself from the sheets and stagger off to start a new day. And it’s been like this all week.
According to a study from back in 1995 published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, we were chronically sleep deprived back then. Apparently, nothing’s changed in more than 20 years, and it affects us in so many physical and mental ways. In fact, Rachel Swalin’s article for Health.com lists 11 signs of sleep deprivation, including that you are more impulsive, your memory’s gone bad, you have difficulty making decisions, and you frequently emotionally overreact.
It’s clear that better sleep means better mental health. But how do we get it when we tend to binge watch our favorite TV shows or movie series late into the night, pick up an iced triple espresso latte from the coffee shop after an evening of shopping, flip through social media posts on our phones or tablets, work on that project, or answer dozens of emails from work long after we’ve left the office?
Many of us have sought medical help and have been prescribed sleep aids, such as Ambien. Like any medication, you need to be careful how you take it; plus, using it may have side effects, such as daytime drowsiness, nausea, or even memory loss, so taking them to get better sleep might make our mental conditions worse. In addition, there is always the potential to abuse it and other sleep aids, even the ones sold over the counter. And according to the Mayo Clinic, there is no sleep aid that is a magic cure.
Your body wants to sleep. In fact, your natural circadian rhythm (that is, your body’s internal clock) demands it. And when your body demands something healthy and essential, it’s best that you listen. So, listen to your body, and prepare it, your home, and your bedroom for a restful night’s sleep.
As the day goes on into the evening, your body’s circadian rhythm gradually prepares it for sleep. Follow it by turning off all big, overhead lights and illuminating your rooms with smaller, low-wattage lamps. Do this at least one hour before your scheduled bedtime. Avoid drinking any beverages with caffeine at least six hours before you go to bed. Turn off all of your devices, including your phone, tablet, and laptop. Why? Those devices use the blue light that tricks your brain into thinking there’s daylight present. If necessary, keep one phone on for emergencies. If you have children, make sure they’re devices are off as well, and get them away from the video game console.
Once all devices are off and everyone in the household is getting ready for bed, close all blinds and curtains in the bedrooms. Invest in a set of blackout curtains for each window, if necessary. Make sure the room is cool enough, too, since your body’s temperature tends to drop in the evening. If you’ve ever tried to fall asleep in a room that’s too warm, you know how uncomfortable it is and how difficult it is to fall asleep. Use either a pedestal fan or small window unit or portable air conditioner to get the room cool and comfortable for sleep.
According to sleep scientist Matthew Walker, we can’t skimp on sleep throughout the week and make up for it on weekends. The brain doesn’t have a way to reclaim what sleep has been lost. And even if we do sleep less during the week and “make up” for it on weekends, that lack of sleep will still affect us during the work week when we truly need to be alert and in control. All of this means that a good, uninterrupted eight hours of sleep each night refreshes us and puts us in a better state of mind to handle life.
Photo Credit: Unsplash.com bruce mars