How do you sleep?

According to leading experts in mental health, most adults in western cultures are found to be moderately to severely sleep deprived. Sleep deprivation can happen due to different reasons. You can be a parent that needs to attend to your children number of times during your sleep hours, you may experience sleep difficulties, or you simply go to bed too late and wake up too early. However the truth is, sleep insufficiency and disrupted sleep cycles affect your productivity, work, relationships and mental resilience. James B. Maas, PhD, a professor and former chairman of the psychology department at Cornell University stresses that good sleep isn’t a luxury, but a necessity. He says “ If we treated machines like we treat the human body, we would be accused of reckless endangerment.”

What does this mean?

Many times I find myself reminding to my clients of one simple fact. We have one body for the whole life. We don’t have an option to switch it to the “newer model” when it gets worn out, just like we would do with the car or a washing machine. If we want to live good and comfortable life, we need to take a good care of us. Nurturing your body and mind should be the priority. In fact, it is a very good investment in your future too.

In current world we are expected to highly perform every day. At work, school and even in our free time we stay super busy. Everything needs a balance. If we spend our energy on daily tasks and responsibilities, we naturally need time to regain that energy somehow. And sleep serves us so much more than that.

Sleep, the two way street

Link between sleep and mental health has been thoroughly researched by mental health professionals. Neuroimaging and neurochemistry studies suggest that a good night’s sleep helps to foster both mental and emotional resilience in adults and children. In other words, you strengthen your brain by resting it.

According to the researchers from the Harvard University, chronic sleep problems affect 50% to 80% of patients in a typical psychiatric practice. Sleep difficulties are particularly common in patients with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). What these experts are saying is that sleep disturbances used to be seen before as a symptom of stress and psychiatric disorders. But in the light of today’s research they came to a common understanding that there is a more of a reciprocal influence, a two way street. Not only we tend to have worse sleep when we experience mental or emotional difficulties, but also insufficient sleep can greatly contribute to the onset and progression of stress and mental disorders. This means that there is a causal effect of bad sleeping patterns on our mental well-being.

In other words, if we don’t get enough of good quality sleep, eventually things may spiral down towards chronic sleep disruptions that are known to set the stage for negative thinking and emotional vulnerability.

Did you know?

Your alertness, energy, performance, thinking, productivity, creativity, safety and health will be affected by how much you sleep. According to longitudinal studies, good sleep is the best predictor of lifespan and quality of life.

Although leading experts in sleep research are still trying to tease apart all the mechanisms, they’ve discovered that sleep affects levels of neurotransmitters and stress hormones, among other things, in the brain, that influence our thinking and emotional regulation.

When brain is awake it has an intense electrical activity that has the need of an enormous amount of metabolic exchange. This means that our brain during the day also produces a large amount of metabolic waste. The elegant design of our bodies allows for such a high brain activity by putting off clearing away the waste until later. And then when we go to sleep, it shifts into a “cleaning mode” to clear out the waste that has accumulated throughout the day (in order to stay healthy).

It is important not to fall behind with this cleaning (good night sleep), because the consequences are great on the health of one’s mind and the body. Sleep has truly restorative function, it refreshes and clears the mind and it‘s critical for preventing mental and physical problems.

Cycles of sleep

During “quiet” sleep, we progresses through four stages of increasingly deep sleep. These stages progress cyclically (every 90 to 110 min) and each sleep stage has a very important function for our health. The first sleep cycles each night have relatively short REM sleeps (rapid eye movement- when we dream) and long periods of deep sleep. But later in the night, between the sixth and eighth hour of sleep, REM periods lengthen and deep sleep time decreases.

Besides the importance to go to bed well before midnight to get the benefit of the deep regenerative sleep we also need those solid 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep to get the benefit of REM sleep!

It is important to understand that if sleep is cut short, the body doesn’t have time to complete all of the phases needed for muscle repair, memory consolidation and release of hormones regulating growth and appetite. But when we do get full night’s sleep we wake up better prepared to concentrate, make decisions, or engage fully in everyday activities.

My advice

If you are not getting 8 hour of uninterrupted sleep per day and sleep insufficiency is one of your problems, try to identify why that is. Do you go to bed too late in the night as a habit? Do you have trouble falling asleep or wake up number of times in the night? Are you a parent with small children? Is there another problem?

  1. Make sure you find regularity in the times you go to bed and about the same waking hour in the morning. If your sleeping pattern is the same most of the days, your body will be programmed to fall asleep much faster and be ready to wake up and done regenerating at your usual “getting up” time.
  2. The easy way to clear your mind and make you fall asleep is using a lavender essential oil. You can apply it on the bottom of your feet or just put a drop behind your earlobes before you go to bed. Then once in bed, try some simple breathing exercises.
  3.  Following simple advice on sleep hygiene helps most of people, but if that is not enough, consult your GP. However, please keep in mind that sleeping medication as well as alcohol before bed interferes with sleep cycles, so preferably sleeping pill should be your last resort.
  4. If stress and raising ideas or worries are keeping you up you can follow our popular programme designed to slow your mind down at appropriate times, reduce your stress levels, physical/muscle discomfort and promote positive mental attitude.

For parents – I know that this is a challenge, but make sure you go to bed early in the night and follow the sleep hygiene. You are not only going to feel better with more sleep, but you will be a better parent if you are well rested. But what is also very important, you are a role model to your child. If they see you being disciplined and take care of yourself, they will carry on the healthy habits to their adult life too.