Sleep: how the quality and quantity of your sleep affects your mental health

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Sleep. We all do it. We’ve been doing it since the day we were born. But why do we sleep? How much sleep do we need? And, why is it that when we don’t get a good sleep or enough sleep, we turn into zombies? While the theories behind why we sleep are vast, we do know that sleep is not only vital for our physical health but overall mental well-being as well.

Many things occur when we are sleeping. Our body uses this time to rest and repair itself from the day, and the brain sifts through various thoughts and memories. Given these factors, it’s easy to understand why our mind and body might not be as sharp when we don’t get enough sleep. So, what can you do to ensure you are giving yourself the best chance at catching those Zs?

When it comes to getting enough sleep, it’s important to know two things:

1)      How much sleep you should be aiming for, and

2)      What to do if you’re struggling to get to sleep

You might be wondering, “How much sleep is the right amount for me?” Maybe you think that you’re a super human that only needs a couple of hours a night, or that hibernation season isn’t just meant for winter. Regardless, on average, adult human beings function best when getting anywhere from seven to nine hours of sleep per night. While the reason behind this number is unknown, it’s important to note that if you’re in bed from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m., but are waking up frequently throughout the night, then you’re not hitting your sleep target. Interrupted sleep makes for poor overall sleep quality and can leave you feeling drained in the morning. Additionally, lying in bed wide awake trying to fall asleep at bedtime is doing you no favours.

To combat these challenges, you can try a variety of methods:

Go to bed when you’re sleepy

If you’re lying awake for more than 30 minutes, get out of bed. Go into a dimly lit space and do something relaxing that doesn’t take a whole lot of brain power. Reading, drawing or knitting can be things that are relaxing and will help you start to feel sleepy. Only go back to bed when you’re feeling sleepy; if you go back to bed or stay in bed when you aren’t sleepy, your brain will start to associate wakefulness with bedtime rather than sleepiness.

Create a bedtime routine.

Creating a bedtime routine can also help in preparing the body for rest. Setting a bedtime alarm, which is an alarm letting you know that it’s time to start preparing for sleep, can be really helpful. Once the alarm goes off, it’ll be time to put away all electronics, as the light emitted from them tells our brain to stay awake. Dim the lights, so your brain knows it’s time to start producing melatonin and get ready for sleep. Have a warm bath or shower, so your body can relax and unwind. These pre-bedtime actions will eventually help your body transition into sleep mode more smoothly.

Sleep is crucial for a healthy mental well-being so taking the care to make sure we’re getting enough sleep is very important. Often times, things like anxiety can be amplified by lack of sleep or poor sleep quality. And, sleep can drastically affect our overall mood. Having a great night sleep usually results in feeling awesome the next morning and for the rest of the day, while having a bad sleep will typically result in irritability, a decrease in patience, and foggy brain function.

If you feel like you’re not getting enough sleep, or having poor sleep quality, and that’s affecting your physical and mental well-being, you may want to seek out a professional that can help you figure out what’s going on. Professional help, such as counselling, can help you learn tools and tricks that can enable your body and brain to achieve the amount and quality of sleep that you need to be successful every day.

Information for this blog was provided by Dr. Amy Bender, our Senior Research Scientist. Amy holds a PhD in sleep science.

Katherine Hurtig