Sleep is one of, if not the, most important factor in living a long and healthy life. However, it can often get pushed to the end of our priority list.
But why is this? Why is sleep so important?
How Sleep Affects Mental Health and Wellbeing
Sleep is one of the most important physiological processes for our bodies. It plays a critical role in memory and cognition.
Memory consists of three phases: the encoding phase, the consolidation phase, and the retrieval phase. Let’s use an example to explain this.
For example, let’s say you want to learn how to drive a car.
The encoding phase is when you learn how to signal and check your blind spot. The consolidation phase is when your brain converts what you learned into long-term memory. The retrieval phase is when you can recall the memory and thus remember how to signal and check your blind spot!
The phase that sleep is most important for is the consolidation phase. Without sleep, your ability to learn or create memories is severely impaired.
Sleep also plays a fundamental role in your immune system. During sleep, we undergo inflammatory responses that help fortify the natural defenses that we have in our bodies. It also strengthens your immune memory.
This is why if you get infected with a pathogen a second time, you won’t get sick, or if you do get sick, it is not as severe.
Sleep And Mental Health Statistics
35.3% of adults sleep less than 7 hours when they should be getting at least 7 hours a day, if not more.
“100,000 deaths occur each year in US hospitals due to sleep deprivation”.
It’s estimated that depression and anxiety alone cost over $1 trillion annually due to the costs of medication and hospital visits. Inadequate sleep can exacerbate these conditions in individuals at risk, leading to these mental health disorders.
A lack of sleep can also have physical manifestations as it has been linked to heart disease, stroke, obesity, and high blood pressure.
COVID-19 And Mental Health
Covid-19 has imposed a huge mental health burden on society. One of the ways that mental health burdens can manifest is through depression, anxiety, psychological disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Rates of depression are three times higher (15.97% vs. 4.4%), rates of anxiety are four times higher (15.15% vs. 3.6%), and rates of PTSD are five times higher (21.94% vs. 4%) in the general population during the pandemic.
These numbers are just for the general population; healthcare workers are at an even higher risk for these mental health disorders. This is why in Ontario alone, almost 75% of doctors experience burnout.
These mental health disorders significantly impact sleep and can contribute to insomnia.
Mental Health Sleep Hygiene
Sleep hygiene is a set of actions that help set yourself up to sleep as best as you can every night. In the same way that we often plan to have meals at a certain time, planning when you should try to get to sleep is just as important.
There are three ways that you can help develop strong sleep hygiene.
Following A Consistent Nightly Routine
There are several strategies that you can employ to improve your nightly routine. These are just some suggestions for you to consider but FIND WHAT WORKS FOR YOU at the end of the day.
Just because one of these strategies does not work for you does not mean you should give up altogether.
Strategy 1: Set aside 30 minutes to an hour to wind down and focus on relaxing.
You can read, listen to calming music, have a warm bath, or complete a relaxing stretching/yoga routine during this time.
Strategy 2: Avoid electronics and blue light 30-60 minutes before bed.
This is very important as blue light can inhibit melatonin production. This hormone is responsible for sleep onset and maintaining sleep duration.
Strategy 3: Dim your lights 30-60 minutes before.
In the same way blue light can inhibit melatonin production, even regular room lights in your kitchen or bedroom can impact melatonin production.
Develop Healthy Daily Habits
Strategy 1: Getting sufficient sunlight during the day.
Light helps regulate our circadian rhythm, and appropriately timed light can help you sleep better!
Strategy 2: Exercise during the day.
During the day, you build up “sleep pressure” by using energy. Physical exercise plays a key role in this process and can help you sleep! The timing of the exercise is important; try to stay away from late-night exercise as that can interfere with your sleep.
Strategy 3: Reduce alcohol consumption and don’t smoke.
Alcohol is a depressant which is why it can make you feel sleepy. However, it interferes with your sleep architecture! Cigarettes contain nicotine which is a stimulant and can disrupt your sleep.
Strategy 4: Avoid caffeine in the afternoon.
Caffeine is a stimulant and blocks receptors in your brain that cause you to feel tired. Beware of caffeine as it can help productivity, but if you compensate for lack of sleep, that is not sustainable long term.
Strategy 5: Don’t consume large meals before bed.
Heavy meals that contain a lot of spice and fat are hard on your digestive system at night. Indigestion can impact sleep! If you need to eat something, opt for a light snack.
Create An Ideal Sleep Environment
Strategy 1: Blackout all light.
Sleeping in complete darkness is optimal for health as even small amounts of light can disrupt sleep. If you are looking to blackout rooms, the Sleepout Blackout Curtain has the ability to seal all light bleeds and will never come down unless you take it down. It is OEKO-TEX and Greenguard certified to not contain any harmful chemicals. If you are looking to blackout a sleep environment for your baby or young child, SlumberPod can be incredibly helpful; it creates a private, dark sleep space for your little one, so you can finally share a room without stressing.
Strategy 2: Aromatherapy.
Scents such as lavender have been shown to increase melatonin levels which can help with sleep.
Strategy 3: Adjusting temperature to be cool but comfortable.
The best sleeping temperature is between 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit.
Strategy 4: Have a comfortable bed.
This may seem like an obvious strategy, but ensuring that your mattress and pillow are comfortable is a personal preference and thus should be chosen wisely.
Have any tips or strategies that you use to improve your sleep? Leave us a comment down below!
Nathan From Sleepout
Nathan is an SEO specialist from Sleepout. He recently graduated from Queen’s University with a focus on Life Sciences. In his free time, he enjoys reading scientific literature and writing about it on his blog sciencemadesimple.ca.Note: Guest blog posts are shared for informational and educational purposes and may not reflect the official policy or position of SlumberPod (parent company, Dovetail Essentials, LLC), our employees and/or contractors.