Sleep: an important tool in your therapy
It was World Mental Health Day this month and it was interesting to see that in the weeks running up to it, there was a certain amount of focus in the media on sleep – or rather, the lack of it!
In our busy, modern, lives there is ever-increasing pressure to cram more into each day and often, the only thing left to reduce after we’ve squeezed “efficiencies” into every other aspect, is sleep.
In a poll conducted in 2016 by the Royal Society for Public Health, it was discovered that the average Briton is under-sleeping by an hour every night – that is the equivalent of a whole night’s sleep over the course of a week.
And now a study by Cardiff University has found a specific and measurable link between lack of sleep and bipolar disorder relapse. And although this study only looked at one condition, it would not be too great a leap to see the relevance of this data to other mental health conditions as well as general wellness.
In my practice, I treat a lot of people with anxiety and depression and after talking with them for a few minutes and discovering more about their situation and routine, it often emerges that part of the manifestation of their condition is a definite lack of good sleep. In their distressed state, they get “locked in” to unhealthy patterns and behaviours (very often involving the TV, smart phone, iPad or computer) that disrupt their night-time routine and lead to a lack of vital, restorative sleep. When the alarm goes off in the morning, they are still exhausted and begin the day at a loss – compounding their issues – at a time when they need all the additional help and assistance they can get.
Once I’ve ruled out insomnia or another type of health or sleep disorder – which obviously needs its own dedicated and co-ordinated medical treatment, I ask the client to become more aware of their sleep hygiene and the number of hours sleep they get every night. Its interesting to observe how many of them were firstly, not aware of how little they slept each night and secondly, how just one more hour of sleep per night improved their ability to face the following day.
I’m not suggesting that sleep alone, like a silver bullet, can cure anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses, but what I do advocate is that high up on the priority list of “things to do” when you are overcome with anxiety, feel depressed or are suffering in some other way, is that alongside other treatments, make sure you’re prioritising sleep every night. And that means sleep! Time lying in bed watching TV or browsing the web or social media doesn’t count! Actual sleep – at least 7.7 hours of it per night.
Ensuring your body and your brain is well rested forms an invaluable foundation upon which other steps, actions and therapies can be built. Sweet dreams!