Want to combat stress? Want to feel happier? Get some sleep!

Sleep may be the secret sauce to address today’s biggest heavy hitters in the emotional issues department – depression, anxiety, and stress. In fact, it is something that many mental health professionals ask in the first intake session. How much are you sleeping? What is the quality of your sleep? Yet, we struggle as a society to elevate the importance of sleep and how we are affected by the lack of it. Our culture emphasizes performance and busy-ness, when we really should be emphasizing self-care, relaxation, and sleep.  As a result, our mental health is paying the price for it.

I am here to suggest we honor sleep. That we cherish it. Am I being dramatic? Maybe, but I believe it is that important.  During sleep our brain “unplugs” and sorts through the material of the day. Sleep gives the brain time to store information for our retrieval later on, it regulates our levels of the stress hormone (Cortisol), and improves our reactions in decision making and problem solving. In fact, insufficient sleep impairs our cognitive functioning in terms of thinking and learning. Who in our world does not solve problems and make decisions on a daily basis? I have read that driving while lacking sleep is the equivalent to driving while intoxicated. It impairs our motor reactions and visual perception.  Other health issues including weight gain, diabetes, a weakened immune system, lower libido, risk of heart attack and stroke, and the risk of certain cancers are all related to insufficient sleep. We should not be surprised that lack of sleep is linked to depression and anxiety, and stress levels. This is all a very big deal, so I guess I’m not being dramatic after all.

Experts suggest we get between 7-9 hours a night, up to 10 for growing children. The buzzword now is to create good Sleep Hygiene, or preparations for a good night’s sleep. I can suggest the following:

  • Prioritizing sleep in your family and with yourself
  • Engage in a family meeting about the importance of sleep
  • Scheduling sleep with the importance you do your work hours
  • Going to bed the same time daily
  • Exercising earlier in the day
  • Limiting screen time the hour before bed
  • Use calming teas and a small snack an hour before bed  to encourage sleep
  • Purge negative thinking by using a journal
  • Practice meditation techniques that calm the body and mind to make it ready for sleep

For more information on the importance of sleep these references may help:

10 Things to Hate About Sleep Loss – WebMD

Get Enough Sleep – Mental Health America

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