The Importance of Sleep for Mental Health

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We spend on average around a third of our lives asleep. Sleep goes hand in hand with eating, drinking and breathing as a staple for maintaining good physical and mental health. Even though we all know sleep is important, so many of us will not be getting the appropriate amount of sleep that we need to help our brains to function properly. Below we discuss the importance of sleep, how it can affect our mental health, and tips on how to sleep better at night. Read our tips on how to feel less tired.

What is sleep? Why do we need it?

Sleep is thought of as a state of inactiveness for our brains, this isn’t true. While we sleep our body undertakes several essential activities. Having a low awareness of the outside world, relaxed muscles, and a raised anabolic state helps us to build and repair our bodies. During sleep, our brain also processes information and consolidates our memories. It is also reorganising memories, picking out the emotional details and helping us produce new insights and creative ideas. This is why sleep is so important, our bodies do so much during that time that we are unaware of.

As an adult, on average we tend to sleep around 7-8 hours a day although this varies depending on the person. We know as individuals the amount of sleep that we need, and how we react when we don’t have enough sleep. Sleeping less than we need to as individuals will have negative consequences. 

How does lack of sleep affect our mental and physical health?

If you are experiencing a lack of sleep then you may also experience some of the following psychological symptoms:

  • feeling anxious, depressed or suicidal
  • more likely to have psychotic episodes – poor sleep can trigger mania, psychosis or paranoia, or make existing symptoms worse
  • feeling lonely or isolated – for example, if you don’t have the energy to see people or they don’t seem to understand
  • struggle to concentrate, or make plans and decisions
  • feel irritable or not have the energy to do things
  • have problems with day to day life – for example, at work or with family and friends 

Physical symptoms may include:

  • Shaking and rapid breathing – signs of anxiety
  • Feeling tired
  • Elevation in blood pressure 
  • Increased risk of strokes and heart disease
  • Immune damage

How to sleep better at night

1 Establish a regular sleep-wake cycle – this means trying to go to sleep and wake up at regular times consistently. This ensures that your body is in a proper cycle and can settle into it.

2 Have a comfortable bed and bedroom – noise, light and temperature should be made to suit your needs. This will be different for different people and needs to be settled upon to ensure good sleep.

3 Limit the use of stimulants – caffeine, nicotine and alcohol near bedtime will of course have a negative impact on the quality of sleep that you will have. 

4 Avoid drinking excessive liquids – to minimise chances of having to wake to go to the toilet in the middle of the night, try to avoid drinking too much in the hour before you go to sleep.

5 Go to bed when you are ready to sleep – Most people who suffer from insomnia spend more time in bed lying awake rather than actually asleep. Try to only go to bed when you are feeling sleepy and ready to fall asleep.

6 Avoid electronic devices before bed – this includes computers, mobiles, tablets and so on; the blue light from the screen can be overly stimulating and keep you awake.

All clinicians at Oxford CBT practice Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or are Psychologists, providing  evidence-based interventions and support for a range of issues for both young people and adults. If you would like to book an appointment you can do so on our online booking portal. If you have a question please get in touch via our online contact form or call us on 01865 920077.

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