If you’ve ever suffered from problems with your sleep or your mental health, it will come as no surprise that there is a correlation between the two. We wanted to take a closer look at the relationship between sleep and mental health and to give you some advice on how to drift off more easily at night to support your overall wellbeing.
The relationship between mental health and sleep
One in four people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England and this number is likely to increase with 80% of people living with mental illness saying that Covid-19 and the national response have made their mental health worse. Anxiety and depression, in particular, are two of the most common mental health conditions in the UK with one in six people reporting experiencing them every week. Both conditions can have a big impact on your sleep with anxiety causing thoughts to race through your brain keeping you awake, whilst depression can lead to insomnia at night due to troubling thoughts or oversleeping during the day.
Sleep is particularly important for your brain health as this is when you process and store information from the day and form and consolidate memories. As well as making you irritable and exhausted, research suggests that being sleep deprived leads to the development of mental health problems. In other words, the relationship works both ways with mental health conditions affecting your sleep and poor sleep worsening and causing mental health problems in the first place.
In our recent research, we found that a worrying number of people in the UK are struggling to sleep at the moment with 85% of people saying they don’t feel well-rested in the morning. However, despite the sleeping issues they’re facing and the potential negative impact this is having on their mental health, just under half (45%) of people in the UK say they don’t try any techniques to help them drift off. With this in mind, here are three top tips for improving your sleep.
Top tips for improving your sleep
1. Fill in a sleep diary
Try keeping a sleep diary for two weeks, noting down at night what you’ve eaten that day, how much alcohol and caffeine you’ve consumed, how much exercise you’ve done and what techniques you’ve used to prepare yourself for sleep. Then in the morning, note down what time you went to bed and got up, how long it took you to get to sleep and how many times you woke up during the night, rating your sleep out of five. This will help you to pay closer attention to your daily habits and activities and identify the impact they have on your sleep. For example, you may be drinking too much caffeine, eating too much sugar, not exercising enough on certain days or not sticking to a regular bedtime and you’ll be able to clearly see how that impacts your sleep.
Once you’ve identified the things that improve your sleep and the things that keep you up at night, you can then adjust your behaviour to give you a better chance of a good night’s rest. This may involve cutting out caffeine in the afternoon, sticking to a regular bedtime or making sure you do half an hour of light exercise during the day.
To help you out, we’ve created a downloadable sleep diary in our Bedtime Zone which you can save to your files on your phone, print off and fill in or simply copy into your own notepad.
2. Give yourself a helping hand with supplements
Whilst adjusting your behaviour will help you on your way to a better night’s sleep, you may need an extra helping hand to get the sleep you need. Before opting for traditional sleeping pills, there are a number of herbal supplements which act as natural sleeping aids to help you to drift off at night.
One popular option is 5-HTP which is produced from the seeds of a plant called Griffonia simplicifolia and can help to improve overall wellbeing and promote a longer and higher quality night’s sleep.
3. Take your mind away from your anxious thoughts
Listening to relaxing music helps to encourage your body and mind to wind down before bed so make yourself comfortable, forget about social media or TV and spend at least 15 minutes relaxing to some soothing sounds. It’s important to choose the right type of music as anything too upbeat or heavy can stimulate your brain, so stay away from your ‘Top Dance Hits’ playlist or Metallica album! If you find that your mind is still racing, look for a self help or meditation app or audiobook which can help focus your attention away from your anxious thoughts.
Next, you need to breathe; deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and promotes a state of calmness. It does this by stimulating your parasympathetic nervous system which influences your body’s ability to relax. For the second part of your relaxation routine, spend around five minutes in a comfortable position breathing in deeply through your nose before exhaling through your mouth, exhaling for longer than you inhale.
Finally, If you struggle to relax at night, Progressive Muscle Relaxation is a technique that can really help. This involves tensing and relaxing each of your muscles individually and teaches you to release the tension in your muscles. Starting with your lower leg muscles and working your way up through your body, keep each muscle group tensed for approximately five seconds before relaxing it for around 10 seconds.
Help is available
While the above tips can help to improve your sleep, it’s vital to remember that help is available and you don’t have to face your problems alone. Speak to your GP or mental health professional about the issues you’re experiencing and they’ll be able to discuss the various options available to you.