Battling Mental Illness

Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night to function optimally and young people require more. However, we are experiencing a sleep epidemic whereby most people are not sleeping enough to meet their basic requirements. This is worsening – and in part causing – mental illness and the current mental health crisis globally.

Poor sleep time and quality can cause mental health symptoms in people without any history of diagnosable illness. Sleeping poorly for a single night leads to an inability to regulate our emotions. This means we are more prone to sadness, anger, and a generally unstable mood throughout our day. Also, if we experience sleep deprivation acutely or chronically, it can cause dissociation (feeling disconnected from your body and reality) and psychotic symptoms in otherwise perfectly healthy people.

The problem with sleep

For people with clinical mental illness, sleeping can be a nightmare (excuse the pun). Sleep disturbance is a core symptom of several psychiatric disorders, including, depression, bipolar, generalised anxiety, post-traumatic stress, substance abuse, and the list continues. Additionally, 35% of people with insomnia have a co-existing mental health problem. Research is still untangling the relationship between sleep and mental health, but there have been some general patterns found. For example, sleep problems usually appear before depressive symptoms, but after symptoms of anxiety. However, in most cases, lack of sleep feeds into a vicious cycle which is difficult to overcome.

The bottom line is: poor sleep is the cause and the consequence of poor mental health. Therefore, one of the best things you can do to improve your mental health is to prioritise getting enough high-quality sleep. 

Expert Tips

These are experts’ top tips to improve you sleep:

  •       Reduce caffeine and alcohol consumption. Caffeine is a stimulant which blocks the neurotransmitter responsible for promoting sleep and can remain in your system for 6 hours. Alcohol will help you fall asleep faster than usual, but in the second half of the night your sleep quality will decline, and you are more likely to have bad dreams.
  •       Reduce screen time in the evenings. Pick up a book, write a diary, meditate, daydream about that attractive barista that always smiles at you. Whatever floats your boat, but not a screen! Blue light from electronic devices tricks our brains into thinking it is still daylight outside, because the primitive parts controlling when we fall asleep still think our only source of light is the sun.
  •       If you are lying awake for over 20 minutes, get out of bed until you feel sleepy. Our brains learn what to do in specific environments by association. If you are always lying awake watching the clock, your brain will learn to do that when in bed.
  •       Exercise during the day – This is especially important if you are prone to worry, anxiety, and racing thoughts in the evening. Not only are endorphins great for improving your mood directly after working out, but being physically tired will massively reduce your brain’s capacity to ruminate

Sleep routine

Having said this, maintaining a perfect sleep routine is extremely difficult in the modern age; sometimes it is better for your mental health to sacrifice sleep for a late night chat with your best friends. If all this seems like a huge, unobtainable change, simply becoming more mindful of your sleeping habits will go a long way in improving your mental wellbeing. 

For more information and tips to sleep better, check out the following resources: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/sleep-problems/about-sleep-and-mental-health/



Written by Alison Fulop

For Aspire4U CIC,
The Mindset Lead Organisation</h3>
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