Sleep and mental health

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One factor affecting mental health is rest and sleep. There are two aspects to this. First of all, when we are struggling with anxiety and/or depression this can affect sleep patterns but also disrupted sleep is likely to affect our overall sense of mental well-being.  So, it is possible to get into a vicious cycle.  I don’t sleep well because of my emotional health, this means I feel worse in terms of my mental health and so I find it harder still to get a good night’s rest. Additionally, for some people, disruption at night can lead to tiredness in the morning so that they sleep through the day, especially if signed off sick and are awake at night leading to further isolation from others.

It makes sense first of all to work out what the nature of the sleep problem is both in terms of its nature and its causes. Some people experience disrupted, shallow sleep whilst others find that night time is haunted by nightmarish dreams.  So, you may be sleeping through but not well or you may be having trouble either getting to sleep at the start of the night or waking up in the early hours and being unable to settle back down to rest again.

As well as being affected by depression, stress and anxiety, poor sleep can be caused by a number of factors including physical pain, conditions including asthma and sleep apnoea and also the environment where you sleep (uncomfortable, too noisy, too hot or too cold).  It is worth talking to your doctor if you are wither experiencing insomnia or find that you are still tired and lacking energy even after a night’s rest.

It is also worth looking closely at your sleeping arrangements.  First of all, take time to adjust temperature settings to suit your needs. Secondly, make sure that the room is dark enough. A lot of curtains are thin and allow significant amounts of light in especially when street lights are nearby.  Why not purchase a set of blackout curtains. You may also find it helpful to wear a face mask and ear plugs at night.  Check the age and state of your mattress and pillows. Get them changed and make sure you take time to choose something comfortable.  Look out for potential allergens that may affect your breathing or cause you to feel itchy too.

Our sleep patterns are affected by our day-time patterns so take time to look at your work, exercise and dietary patterns during the day. Watch out for caffeine late in the evening and try to eat earlier. Also minimise blue light by switching off devices a reasonable time before heading off to bed. Try to separate work space and sleeping space if working from home. Work on getting regular exercise too.

Some of us find that restlessness relates to having so much on our mind because we are worrying about things or because our minds are working overtime coming up with ideas. I find two things helpful. First of all, it can be useful to have a sense of completion before heading off to bed for the night, to know that you’ve reached where you need to on a particular task for that day. Secondly, when I’m turning things over in my mind, I find it helpful to jot them down in writing somewhere so that my mind knows that they have been logged and considered.

Reading a portion of Scripture, especially a Psalm can be helpful before sleep. But Scripture also challenges us to look deeper at the possible causes of restlessness. Is my restlessness related to anxiety because of unresolved issues in my life?  It can be liberating to seek out and find reconciliation and forgiveness.

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