It’s often in the quiet hours of the morning that I am much more aware. Such as this moment. It’s 2:27 that I am writing this first paragraph, but alongside this activity, I am listening to the sounds of the house. In rooms, I hear the snoring. I hear the sounds from the staircase as the wooden stairs groan – disuse? The cold that has filled the house? I’m not sure. From outside, there are sounds of the odd driver as they venture out to do what is needed of them.
While the bite of the chill gets me, and the sounds of the stairs bothers me, I’m more aware of it all. Life. The breaths of those in my home, alive and resting from their busy day.
Sleeplessness is not uncommon, you hear of many people who do not get enough sleep. It might be a family member, or friend, or perhaps the neighbour. Even a stranger complaining about their tiredness. It is estimated that, from a study in April 2016 , those in the UK and Northern Ireland are under sleeping by 1 hour every night. Meaning that the average sleep in the UK and NI has been recorded as 6.8 instead of the recommended 7.7/8 hours a night. It might not seem like a lot, however, the long term effect of sleeplessness and lost hours of sleep in general is quite overwhelming.
Not to ruin anyone’s mood, but it is important to note the effects lack of sleep can have on the body.
Already, the first thing to appear in the article (my source), is that lack of sleep can impact mental health. Depression, stress and anxiety being prime examples of this. On this note, I can admit that when I was feeling at my worst, lack of sleep was involved somehow. Whether the lack of sleep caused the down moods, or vice versa, I am unsure. I find sleep difficult. I have gotten myself into a routine which dates back to one of the worst times of my OCD suffering; I stay awake at night, until I am sure everyone is in. Everyone is safe, they are alive and the house is safe. The slightest sound, or trick of mind with the lighting, would send me into a panic. A panic so horrid that it feels like someone has tightened their arms around your throat and chest, as if they’re pulling you back into darkness. As if they are putting horse blinkers on your eyes so that you cannot see anything but the dark terror which has you in its hold. The terror which whispers repeatedly in your ears, in your head, until it finally consumes you to the point that you feel you might die with the terror of it all. A panic attack.
This routine has stuck with me for years. Some nights I do not have panic attacks, however, anxiety is always there. Bad habits are hard to break, even though sleeping more sounds so good. Even though sleeping is not a cure for mental health issues, and can even sometimes hinder it (Prolonged sleep in depression sufferers, for example), I do feel that sleep plays a central role in recovery.
According to a survey on sleep (The Great British Sleep Survey 2012 ), poor sleepers are 7x more likely to feel helpless, 5x more likely to feel alone than 7.7/8 hour sleepers, 3x more likely to struggle to concentrate, 2x more likely to suffer from fatigue, relationship problems, low mood and they will also struggle to be productive.
So what causes lack of sleep? According to the survey (Reference ), anxiety and stressful thoughts seem to be the main factor outside of physical factors – no surprise there. Many tend to stay awake and stress about things to come, things in their head, distress, things going on in their life, and even sometimes, nothing at all. They can’t think or feel, or rather they can’t turn their thoughts off but are so exhausted, mentally and physical, that they lay there and think of nothing, but let the thoughts run through their head without focusing on a specific stress. ”After several sleepless nights, the mental effects become more serious. Your brain will fog, making it difficult to concentrate and make decisions. You’ll start to feel down, and may fall asleep during the day”.
Logically, it needs to be looked at as the following: if the body is under physical duress due to lack of sleep, does anyone really expect to be in any good frame of mind? Despite what we might think, we are not superheros. We cannot function without the right amount of sleep. I criticise myself in this aspect. I feel horrid in the mornings, absolutely miserable, even at times that I feel like crying because I am exhausted and have a busy day ahead. Yet while I speak of the importance of sleep, I myself am not getting any – especially not at – now 3 in the morning. But it is a weekend and I will look forward to the lay in as a recovery. (Not wise – find a pattern of sleep and stick to the routine, I mess up my sleep pattern horribly). I suppose in looking at it, I might try to mend myself with some sleep – or at least, mend my sleep pattern so that my exhaustion does not make my barriers and will power to fight my obsessions and compulsions fall.
However, when looking at the benefits of sleep, we also need to question can too much sleep make us mentally unwell? According to the source , yes, it can.
”Sleep plays an important role in the brain, as the brain clears out waste byproducts, balances neurotransmitters and processes memories at rest. At both short and long extremes, rest may have an effect on mood and mental health.
Using data from the Lumosity brain-training platform, researchers found that cognitive performance on three different games all peaked when people sleptaround seven hours, worsening with more or less rest. Other studies have also found memory impairments and decreased cognitive function with longer sleep.
Other research indicates that getting too little or too much sleep may be tied to increased Alzheimer’s disease risk factors and a large Spanish study found that long sleepers may be at increased risk of developing dementia.
Depression and Mental Health
Oversleeping is considered a potential symptom of depression. While many people with depression report insomnia, about 15% tend to oversleep.
People with long sleep durations are also more likely to have persistent depressionor anxiety symptoms compared to normal sleepers. A recent twin study also found that sleeping too little or too much seemed to increase genetic heritability of depressive symptoms compared to normal sleepers.
A study of older adults also found that those who slept more than 10 hours reported worse overall mental health over the past month compared to normal sleepers.
Some research shows that irregularities in the body’s sleep clock may play a role in depressive symptoms, and returning sleep to a healthy pattern is often a focus of treatment” .
I find it quite remarkable how under sleeping and oversleeping can effect ones mental health so much. Everyone considers the issues with under sleeping, but for those of you who do oversleep when you do manage to doze off, I thought it would be important to include oversleeping.
I have been partial to both. I used to oversleep, or when I do manage to doze off, I oversleep through my alarm, and on weekends, I sleep a good lot of the morning because I stay up late. I am not criticising those who over or under sleep, I would be a hypocrite. However, I do hope to bring some awareness to the issues which both can bring. 7-8 hours seems to be the ideal sleep hours for the public.
How do we improve on our sleep? How do we force ourselves to sleep and also get longer hours to sleep until the preferred sleep hours of seven-eight hours a night?
- We sleep. Use maths, or at the very least, a clock and work out what time you would need to go to bed at to have eight hours sleep a night depending on the time you need to get up at.
- Try to get comfortable. Find your best sleeping position and temperature, find your most comfortable way to fall asleep – sounds, lights, position, temperature, holding onto something, and repeat it. If something in particular makes you fall asleep quicker then do it.
- Keep your sleep hours routine, if you go to bed at ten, try to always go to bed at ten. The routine will become pattern and your body should adjust to subconsciously make you more tired when it knows that bedtime nears.
- Stay away from the colour blue, and social media. I study computers, in one of my modules, we did a study on how the colour blue keeps the mind awake – which is why it becomes relevant to a computer course – most social media sites tend to have blue in their design. This is designed to keep the user awake, attracted to the page, both means that the user will constantly be using the site – sleeplessness means people might linger on social media at night in boredom. Thus, one way that computer skilled people will usually design social media sites with blue in it – Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, WordPress login. Art psychology used against the user for more use. My brain doctor suggested that all phones be put in a box to avoid temptation of using electronics.
- Try to avoid distractions, also try to avoid arguments. Should you be having a conversation before bed and become upset or angry, you are less likely to sleep as you mull it over. It is best to have an hour downtime to yourself to settle – this hour downtime could be your bedtime routine of face washing, teeth flossing and brushing your teeth. This is called creating a bedtime ritual.
- Do not starve yourself and do not overeat before bed.
- Do not nap a lot during the day.
- Limit stress and try some physical activity in the middle of the day – not before bed as your adrenaline might keep you awake.
Of course, the methods aforementioned are important tips as to how to improve sleep. However, do also try and consult a doctor on the matter. Doctors, in extreme cases, can help with medication to sleep or suggest other tips. I never liked medication myself, especially the eventual day that you would be taken off it and suffer the withdrawal. Please try and do it without the aid of sleeping pills, however, know that they can also apparently help – ask a doctor about the issue. It’s important to note that meditation through breathing rituals are an excellent way to quieten the mind and help sleep in the person that is meditating.
As for myself; It’s going to be hard, I will struggle with getting into a routine and not obsessing about the safety of my family – I’m not sure if I can even change my routine, but trying is important. I’m not brilliant at trying, I feel like a child as I do not know how to care for myself. However, it’s time to try. It will probably take years before I do it properly, but at least now I know the issues with sleep and how important it is. I hope, dear readers, that I’ve helped you also to realise how important sleep is to improving mental health.