How is your sleep? How was your sleep last night? How many hours are you sleeping? Do you feel rested when you wake up? Did you even get to sleep? Can you get to sleep easily, or do you struggle? Do you even know what sleep is?!
The answers to these questions are a great predictor of mental and emotional well-being. 50-80% of people that have a mental health diagnoses have persist sleep disturbances that exacerbate their mental health symptoms and dysfunction. In addition, chronic sleep problems can increase the risk of mental health problems in the future due to the decrease of emotional resiliency. Other areas that are affected by poor sleep are decreased functionality of the immune system, impaired emotional processing, pain related issues, and mood dsyregulation.
There are a lot of benefits to getting quality sleep, especially through the 90mins cycles of "quiet" sleep and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. Quiet sleep occurs through four progressive stages that increase the depth of your sleep. Through each stage, the body progressively relaxes with a decrease in heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature. This body relaxation helps to boost the immune system. REM sleep is usually the cycle of sleep that people dream. During this cycle, body temperature, blood pressure and heart rate actually increase. There is significant brain activity, which helps to process and organize information. Deprivation of "quiet" or REM sleep would put someone at risk for various physical and mental health issues such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity, irritability, depression, anxiety, impulsivity poor performance, etc.
Whether you are a busy teenager, an employed adult, or struggling with the flu, I would claim that most people are at risk for poor sleep at one, or more, times within their lifespan. The goal is to identify that your sleep has been disrupted for one reason or another. Overtime, I believe that people adjust to decreased and poor sleep because of adrenaline exerted during stressful periods or some internal resiliency that pushes one forward. Even though we function on less than recommended sleep, it is important to value the benefits of sleep for increased daily functioning.
Stop, or at lease decrease, use nicotine, caffeine, or other stimulants. These substances increase alertness.
Be careful with use of alcohol to aid in sleep. Alcohol can relax the body, but can increase risk of dependency.
Exercise 2-3 hours before bedtime to relax muscles and exert energy. Physical activity right before bed can cause difficulty sleeping due to physical and mental activity.
Engage in relaxation techniques such as meditation, deep breathing practices, progressive muscle relaxation, hot bath, or journal/draw can help to decrease racing thoughts and muscle tension.
Develop a sleep routine that you begin 1-2 hours before desired bed time that decrease your mental activity such as turning off electronics, reduce brightness and light in the bedroom, etc to prepare your body to rest.
Decrease distractions within the bedroom such as television, computers, and clutter. Try to keep the bedroom minimal, quiet, dim and cool.
Maintain a sleep schedule that is consistent, even on weekends, and use naps effectively, if needed. Naps should be no longer than 20mins for adults, and taken in the earlier afternoon to give the intended boost, but not hinder sleep at night.
National Heart, Blood and Lung Association
National Sleep Foundation
Harvard Health Publications