World Mental Health Day 2015: How sleep affects your mental health

This Saturday (10 October) marks World Mental Health Day 2015 – a global opportunity to reflect on how we can all best support ourselves to have a positive mindset. As with all aspects of maintaining good health, the quality of the sleep you get is crucial.

PrintMind, the mental health charity, report that: “There is a close relationship between sleep and mental health. Many people who experience mental health problems also experience sleep problems.”

Mental health problems that are related to sleep problems can include everything from mood disorders such as Depression, to anxiety disorders and even psychotic disorders including Schizophrenia.

What kinds of illnesses can cause sleep problems?

Racing thoughts are common with people who have anxiety. They’re also more likely to experience disturbed sleep, sleep paralysis and sleepwalking. Sleeping to avoid day-to-day responsibilities can occur in people with Depression – leading to oversleeping, which increases lethargy. People with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – for example, war veterans – may experience nightmares or night terrors. Paranoid and psychotic thinking can prevent sleep altogether, with fears of what might happen to the person or their family while they are asleep. Some medications prescribed for mental health conditions can cause insomnia, disturbed sleep or oversleeping too.

How do sleep problems affect mental health?

Finding it hard to cope with daily life – Without sleep, even the simplest of tasks can feel impossible. You may feel unable to function at home or in the workplace, and unable to deal with the challenges of the day. If this continues for a long period of time, you could develop anxiety or Depression.

Loneliness – Tiredness can stop you saying “Yes” to social invitations – leading you to feeling cut off from friends and family.

Thinking negatively – Dealing with anxieties and irrational thoughts requires a clear mind. When you are very tired, you are more likely to interpret things negatively.

How you can help yourself

Mind recommend a number of ways in which you can help yourself. These include:

Establishing a routine – Set a time when you plan to go to bed and a time to wake up so that your body can learn to associate times of the day with sleep.

Prioritise comfort – Are your sleep surroundings comfortable? Everything from the mattress you sleep on to the sounds and lighting in your room can impact on your ability to sleep.

Relax – Breathing exercises, muscle relaxation, visualisation and meditation are four techniques that can promote a relaxed mindset. Don’t over-stimulate your brain – switch off your mobile phone, TV and other screen-lit devices.

Listen to your body – If you truly can’t sleep, don’t try to force the issue. Go to another room or try a relaxation technique. Without spoiling your new sleep routine, catch up with naps during the day or a lie-in at the weekend.

Keep a sleep diary – Being mindfully aware of what factors are contributing to your sleeplessness can help you to devise coping strategies that work. There are helpful sleep diary templates on the NHS Choices website.

Have you experienced difficulties with sleeping or do you have any tips you would like to share? If so, please leave your comments below!

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