Sleep and Mental Health

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It has been reported that we need regular sleep for the human body to function in a healthy way physically and mentally.  Let us focus our attention on how sleep affects our mental health.  

 Many research studies have confirmed that sleep deprivation is dangerous.  Even a small lack of sleep can impair our cognitive functions, which means our ability to concentrate, to pay attention and memorize. If the lack of sleep continues without being restored, it could cause hallucinations and mood swings.  It also has been written that sleep deprivation results in lack of judgment and reaction time.  Therefore if people loose sleep one night it is important to restore sleep by sleeping longer hours the next day.  Furthermore, light sets our biological clock therefore it is common for people who work shifts to have an increase risk in getting emotional and mental problems.

Research shows that sleep is influenced by substance intake. For example, the consumption of caffeine can make it more difficult to fall asleep.  Smokers often sleep very lightly and don’t get as much sleep.  Heavy smokers tend to wake up earlier due to having nicotine withdrawals.  The use of alcohol consumption to relax at night backfires because it reduces our need for deep sleep giving the body less time to restore at night.     

The following are suggestions that might help maintain a healthy sleep and mental health:

1. Avoid stimulating activities or exercises at least three hours before going to bed as it will boost your energy level making difficult to fall asleep.

To relax, do gentle yoga or take a stroll around the block during the hours leading to bedtime. 

2. Instead of going non-stop until bedtime, which often makes it harder to fall asleep, write a list of tasks to be accomplished for the next day.  This may help prevent waking up worrying.

3. The temperature in your sleep environment should be comfortable as  extreme temperatures can disrupt our sleep. 

4. Dim the lights one hour or two before bedtime, keep noise to a minimum and listen to soothing music.

5. Stop drinking alcohol at least two hours before bedtime.

6. Don’t have any caffeine after 4 pm.

7. Stop smoking four hours before going to bed.

8. Avoid going to bed hungry but be mindful not to eat protein right before bed as it is known to boost your mood. Instead have a light carbohydrate snack such as a slice of toast which can help to fall asleep.

9. For the shift workers, use a bright light during your night shift, wear dark sunglasses on the way home and sleep in a very dark room. 

10. Yes, you can count sheep. It helps to relax the brain enough to bring on sleep.

Keeping Health in Mind is a monthly newspaper column made possible with the help of Seaway News and the clinical staff of Tri-County Mental Health Services, a community program of the Cornwall Community Hospital/Hôpital Communautaire de Cornwall.


Organizations: Seaway News, Tri-County Mental Health Services, Cornwall Community Hospital/Hôpital Communautaire de Cornwall

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