By Dr Rohi
William Shakespeare recognized the importance of sleep and the consequences of sleeplessness over 400 years ago. In his words, “O Sleep! O Gentle Sleep/Nature’s soft nurse, how have I frightened thee? /That thou no more wilt weigh my eyelids down/And steep my senses in forgetfulness.” Shakespeare understood that quality sleep is crucial to our physical and mental health, as well as our overall well-being. Sleep smarter: How animals do it better than humans
It may come as a surprise to you to realise that we spend nearly a third of our lives either sleeping or attempting to sleep. That much sleep is impressive! Just like proper diet and exercise, sleep is crucial in maintaining our physical health as well as mental health.
Unfortunately, our ability to sleep may be declining due to the stress of modern civilization. Those who are severely exhausted find it difficult to even get to sleep. This can seriously disturb our systems and eliminate many of the advantages that come naturally from getting a full night’s sleep, which we usually take for-granted.
Even while we may have greater IQs than other creatures, some creatures like animals are much “sleep smarter” than we are. Despite being aware of how crucial sleep is, people often put it off. Even though we are exhausted, we decide to remain up. So why is falling asleep such a challenge for humans?
We stay up late watching films, scrolling on social media, playing video games rather than sleeping; we have evolved into “night owls,” depriving our bodies of sleep while the owls receive plenty of it. Sleep is directly linked to mental and emotional well-being and has been linked to disorders including Depression, Bipolar Disorder, Anxiety, Seasonal Affective Disorder, Schizophrenia, and ADHD among others.
Poor sleep is often a symptom of mental health issues. In addition, a lack of quality sleep, particularly insomnia, can contribute to the onset and aggravation of mental health issues.
There are many complicated elements that affect both sleep and mental health, there is reason to believe that enhancing sleep can have a positive effect on both and may even be a part of treating many psychiatric diseases.
Throughout the several sleep phases that make up the sleep cycle, the brain’s activity rises and falls. Although general brain activity slows down during NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep, there are brief spurts of energy. Since brain activity increases quickly during REM sleep, this stage is linked to dreaming that is more vivid.
The brain’s ability to interpret emotional information is facilitated by getting enough sleep, particularly REM sleep. The brain works to analyse and retain thoughts and memories when we sleep, and it appears that lack of sleep is particularly detrimental to the consolidation of emotionally positive information. This is linked to the severity of mental health conditions, including the likelihood of suicidal thoughts or actions, and can affect mood and emotional reactivity.
Each stage contributes to brain health by facilitating the ramping up or down of activity in various areas of the brain and improving thinking, learning, and memory. Additionally, studies have shown that the brain’s activity while we sleep has a significant impact on our emotional and mental well-being.
As a result, the conventional belief that sleep issues were a sign of mental health issues is being challenged more and more. It is now apparent that there is a bidirectional relationship between sleep and mental health, and that sleep issues may both contribute to and be a result of mental health issues.
Another element of sleep that has been connected to mental health is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). OSA is a condition that causes fragmented and disturbed sleep by causing breathing pauses while you sleep and a drop in your body’s oxygen levels. OSA is more common in those with psychological disorders.
Different age groups need different amounts of sleep. In some cases, sleeping an hour more or less than the general range may be acceptable based on a person’s circumstances.
The recommended hours of sleep per 24 hours for infants of 4-12 months of age is 12-16 hours (including naps), for toddlers of 1-2 years, it is 11-14 hours (including naps). For pre-school children of 3-5 years, 10-13 hours of sleep including naps have been recommended. Moreover, for school age children of age 6-12 years and for teens of the age 13-18 years, 9-12 hours and 8-10 years of sleep have been recommended respectively. Additionally for adults of age 18 years or more, 7 or more hours of sleep have been recommended. (National Sleep Foundation).
Poor sleep hygiene is a frequent contributor to sleeping issues. Enhancing sleep hygiene by creating sleep-friendly routines and sleeping environments can help to significantly lower sleep interruptions.
To develop better sleeping patterns, consider the following;
• Establishing a regular bedtime and sleep pattern
• Finding ways to relax as part of a regular night time ritual, such as through the use of relaxation techniques
• Avoiding coffee, alcohol, and tobacco in the evening
• Before going to bed, dim the lights and put away any electronic gadgets for at least an hour.
• Getting regular exercise and midday exposure to natural light
• Making the most of your mattress, pillows, and bedding for comfort and support
• Minimising excessive light and noise that can interfere with sleep.
Establish a sleep schedule and follow it. A regular bedtime is essential if you want to get at least seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Your circadian rhythm can stabilise in this way. By using the cognitive behavioural technique to train your body, you may restore control over your days and nights. A good night’s sleep is essential to every process in the body, affecting your physical and mental functioning the next day, our ability to fight disease and develop immunity, and our metabolism and chronic disease risk.
(The author is Practising Mental Health Psychologist at Lisners)