What are your sleeping habits doing to your mind?

Emily Caulton offers a 101 on sleep patterns, mental health, and the connection between the two. Not all received wisdom is accurate, but we all need healthy sleeping patters to be happy and productive in day to day life.  

Your sleep pattern and your mental health are entirely linked. We have all experienced sleepless nights from anxiety or low mood at some point in our lives, and plenty of us have too little sleep due to our increasingly heavy workloads and busy lives. Given that the condition of our minds can affect our sleep so prominently, it is easily forgotten that the link between sleep and mood works both ways. Simply not having enough sleep can truly impact your mental health, for a multitude of different reasons. 

It was only recently that I discovered the benefits of getting a good night’s sleep. According to a survey conducted by the UK’s Mental Health Foundation, only 38% of adults get enough sleep (the recommended amount is an average of around 8 hours per night), and last winter, I was certainly not one of those well-rested people. Having been caught up by distractions and work, night after night, I found that a decline in my sleeping hours – primarily due to stress - had taken a substantial toll on my mental health. I noticed not only a drastic change in my levels of focus, but also in my mood. 

So why is it that tiredness causes such a decline in wellbeing? As obvious as it seems, a lack of sleep leads to a lack of focus, which can make you completely stressed out, and really perpetrate anxiety when it comes to doing work or daily activities. For me, this was only the tip of the iceberg, because a lack of energy carried a multitude of other consequences that made my wellbeing sink even lower. When I was tired all the time, I was no longer motivated to keep up a regular exercise routine and I turned to caffeine and sugar to give me the energy spike I craved. Both the lack of regular exercise and my reliance on artificial energy boosts had lowered my mood while also raising my anxiety levels. Caffeine and sugar, I soon discovered, were temporary fixes, that produce a huge energy crash after the high, which often leads to an even lower mood than before.

Sound familiar? It is unsurprising if it does, since more than 90% of adults in the US rely on caffeine every day as a way of getting through their exhaustion, and British adults aren’t far behind them. I vowed to turn my sleeping pattern around at the beginning of this year and improve my mental health for good, so I developed some strategies for a better and longer night’s sleep. 

I found that establishing a night-time routine is vital when it comes to getting your sleep pattern sorted; going to bed at the same time each night, and even building your evenings around winding down before you plan to go to sleep, can do wonders for your energy levels and mental health alike. Instead of simply deciding on a time to go to bed, it really helped me to set a reminder on my phone to start getting ready for bed an hour before the set time, and to sip herbal tea to help me relax beforehand. 

I also avoided rigorous exercise a few hours before sleep, as this gives you an adrenaline boost before bed, which you just do not need. Refraining from looking at screens that omit blue light an hour before you go to bed is also ideal, but if you cannot help but look at Facebook, setting a routinely occurring yellow light on your phone from about 9pm onwards is a good compromise. I also found that spraying your pillow or pulse points with lavender oil works to calm you down and quell your desire to stay up well into the early hours of the morning.
The key to a healthier sleeping pattern is routine, and it was only when I truly established one myself that I realised how enormously beneficial it was to my mind and body. Why not give it a go, and see how far your energy skyrockets?