Sleep for Better Mental Health

A slightly contradicting topic 'sleep' when it comes to mental health. One of the many symptoms of mental health illnesses is insomnia or oversleeping. Yet one of the ways to cope better with a mental illness is to sleep better.

It ties into again, like eating, about a healthy body equals a healthy mind.

A read something the other day which was really fitting and explained it better than I have been trying to and that is;

"For me sleep problems are a tell-tale sign of declining mental health. The worse I sleep, the less I feel able to cope during the day. The less I am coping, the worse I seem to sleep."

Looking back at anytime I have taken a turn for the worse and even before that, sleep has become an issue for me personally.

I have suffered from both oversleeping, which has been for much of my life, and most recently not being able to sleep.

When my life was riddled with anxiety, I would use sleep to avoid doing anything that made me anxious. If I was asleep I couldn't worry. It seemed the only time when I was able to escape the anxiety that was consuming me.

I would sleep at any point possible. After a 12 hour sleep, I would wake up tired and I would already be planning when I could fit a nap into my day. If there was anything that was giving me considerable amounts of anxiety and I couldn't stop the worrying, I would choose to close my eyes and sleep. The bonus was if I was asleep I wouldn't have to go anywhere and could completely avoid doing whatever it was giving me anxiety.

Then when everything changed and I became depressed. The oversleeping stopped and the inability to sleep began.

Sleep became difficult for a couple of reasons, the first I couldn't relax. My mind would go into overtime and the last thing it was going to allow me to do was sleep. The second was I didn't want to sleep. For me, the mornings, well every morning, is a drain and a massive struggle. So going to sleep meant having to put myself through that again tomorrow.

Like the eating, I decided it was time to tackle sleep as well. Any routine I had, had completely gone out of the window.

The first step for me was establishing a routine. This was easier being out of work at the time but something definitely worth doing. I decided I was going to try and sleep around eleven/midnight and get a good eight hours. I actually started using the 'bedtime' section in the 'clock' app on my iPhone so I could try and keep track and if I was unable to sleep I would alter the time each day and it records which time you ended up choosing.

This isn't something that is just going to happen. It takes time like anything else. The key is to be persistent and make other changes around going to bed.

For instance, taking some time to relax before going to bed. It's that process of getting your mind ready to sleep. A couple of things I learnt through therapy was; breathing exercises and also muscle relaxation work very well. You can also listen to some music or have a bath. The idea is to try and eliminate tech use as well. So avoiding using your phone or laptop right before going to sleep maybe for somewhere up to an hour as it has been shown to negatively affect sleep.

Another one which helped me a lot especially living at home still was, I spend a fair bit of time in my room without a chair or anything so I would often be in bed on my laptop etc. When I stopped using my bed to lounge around on and kept it just for sleeping, I was almost programming my mind to know when I get into bed, I'm here to sleep.

Eating, drinking and exercise can all help sleep as well. Eating we already touched on and I will focus on the others in weeks to come. However, things like alcohol and caffeine can help short-term but can have negative effects also. So cutting back on them can have better results on the quality of sleep you are getting. And exercise, massively important for releasing good endorphins but it will also tire the body out physically and make sleep easier and much more needed.

The last bit I want to touch on is there are times where the medication may not be suitable. It would be definitely worth going back to see a GP and discussing this further. They may also offer sleeping tablets which can be beneficial to breaking a pattern and allowing you to build a routine. They aren't an indefinite fix and you need to plenty of work yourself.

As I said above, I have suffered from the excessive sleeping and the lack 0f sleep. It took time but I was able to get a better quality of sleep back in my life. I still have trouble here and there but it much more manageable than every single night.

I hope some of this helped. Keep your eyes peeled for next week.