Getting Sleep for Positive Mental Health
“Tossed and turned all night.” “Didn’t sleep a wink.” “Been up since the crack of dawn.” “Got up on the wrong side of bed.” With an estimated 50 to 70 million America adults having sleep disorders, it’s no wonder there are so many ways to describe problems with rest.
May's Mental Health Month focus is on Whole Health strategies like having positive sleep. To stay healthy, recommended sleep amounts vary by age - with infants, children, and teenagers needing the most. The National Sleep Foundation advises adults have a minimum of 7 hours with up to 9 for adults 18 to 64 years old and up to 8 for seniors (65 years old and older). Quality sleep means falling asleep within 30 minutes of going to bed, sleeping at least 85% of time in bed and waking for 20 minutes or less no more than once per night.
Sleep problems are now considered to be not just a symptom of a mental health condition, but also as a risk factor or precursor for some psychiatric disorders. Reduced sleep can be a first warning sign of a developing mental health diagnosis. People in psychiatric care struggle with sleep issues at much greater rates (50 to 80%) than the regular population (10 to 18%). Research found sleep issues proceed development of depression 69% of the time and anxiety 27%. For those with diagnosed Major Depressive Disorder, estimated 90% of the children and 65 to 90% of the adults have sleep concerns. People with Bipolar Disorder in their illness' manic phase have reduced sleep 69 to 99% of the time; lack of sleep can induce mania. Over 50% of anxious adults struggle with sleep.
Effective sleep strategies are key self-care skills for health and well-being. If your sleep quality is less than ideal, try the following:
Use good sleep habits:
Keep consistent times for bedtime and waking; many experts consider insomnia to be a learned behavior which can be retrained.
Use your bed only for sleep or intimacy. Get out of bed at your set wake time.
Keep bedroom temperature, light and noise levels comfortable for sleep.
Turn off phone and text alerts while sleeping.
Avoid using technology devices (phones, computers, televisions) for several hours before bed; light from those devices suppresses melatonin, the main sleep hormone.
Pets in the room, but not in bed, may help sleep if your pets are not loud or disruptive.
Make lifestyle changes:
Consider making even temporary reductions in your commitments to allow for more time between activities; rushing home to bed from obligations does not promote resting well.
Avoid or reduce alcohol, caffeine or nicotine, particularly before bed. People may think alcohol helps them to fall asleep, but sleep quality reduces after the first few hours. Stimulants like caffeine or nicotine can lead to wakefulness.
Improve your daily nutrition and stop skipping meals. Blood sugar imbalances increase stress hormones and interfere with sleep.
Increase your physical activity; aerobic exercise helps people fall asleep faster, have deeper sleep and wake less often during sleep. Work out several hours before bedtime to avoid feeling stimulated.
Experiment with writing before bed to release any stressors or worries.
Give yourself time to wind down before you lie down to sleep. Take a shower/bath; listen to soothing music.
Imagine a peaceful scene (visualization), meditate, take deep breaths and focus on relaxing your muscles one by one from your head to feet (progressive muscle relaxation) to help you fall asleep.
Seek professional help:
If you struggle with sleep, consult with your doctor and/or a mental health professional. Certain medications and hormonal imbalances can affect sleep. Mental health therapists diagnose and treat emotional health concerns. Mental Health Association’s Walk-In & Counseling Center offers walk-in screenings for all ages (free for Indian River County residents; by nominal fee for out of county) for guidance about mental health concerns and treatment resources. Give us a call at (772) 569-9788 or stop in at 820 37thPlace, Vero Beach. Remember, ‘It’s okay to get help’ (and necessary to sleep well!).