How Can I Sleep Better?
Mental Health, Sleep, and Coping Mechanisms
Welcome to the next installment in this blog where learn about sleep and how you can sleep better! There are many things that can prevent you from sleeping like caffeine, noisy kids, the Vikings once again failing to go to the Super Bowl, but something everyone experiences at some point in their life is mental health issues. Today, we’re going to be looking at two common mental health diagnoses, how they typically interrupt your sleep, and some tools to combat these negative effects.
It has not been that long since mental health was taken seriously and even now, there are still people who discount it or perpetuate a dangerous stigma around those who have mental health issues. Mental health is not restricted to something as complex as schizophrenia or PTSD but can manifest in different, less intense ways. Depression, anxiety, and PTSD are the most common mental health issues that people face in the world today and even though these diagnoses are different, how they affect your sleep is practically the same.
Those suffering from depression and anxiety can feel like their world has been turned upside down when it comes to sleep. Sleep latency tends to be higher, sleep maintenance is difficult to achieve, and the quality of sleep is severely inhibited, as can the quantity. With a racing mind, typical of someone struggling with anxiety and depression, it can be difficult to relax enough to sleep. It can get to the point where the person begin to see their bed, and even their bedroom, as a place of emotional distress because they aren’t able to sleep as well as they need to. The ceiling becomes their new television as sleep continues to elude them. This is the case for far too many people and some simple tools, along with some proper sleep hygiene that I’ve discussed in previous blog posts, can help remediate these sleep issues.
Undoubtedly, some of you have heard of meditation or mindfulness exercises, you’ve certainly heard of breathing before, I hope, and you may have a negative or skeptical opinion of it. “How can breathing help me sleep better? I breathe every day, all day, and my sleep is still terrible.” While it’s true that on its face breathing to help you sleep seems strange, there is fantastic evidence for it. The sympathetic nervous system in your body is the “fight, flight, or freeze” part of you. This is where things like adrenaline and cortisol is released which play a significant part in the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Breathing exercises, particularly ones where your inhale is shorter than your exhale, are quite proficient at deactivating this part of your nervous system. When you can bring your adrenaline and cortisol levels down to a healthy baseline, you will feel that in your heart rate and in your racing mind. The world of meditation is vast with different techniques but the principle of using breathing to control your reactions is sound. There have been studies done in rats that show a consistent routine of differing breathing can shrink the amygdala, the part of your brain responsible for processing fear, among other things, and therefore reduces the amount of time rats freeze in the presence of fearful stimuli. How does this help with sleep? It helps because it can relax you, keep your mind at bay, and ready your brain and body for sleep. Try it! 30 minutes a day of meditation or breathing exercises is a lot but try working your way up to 13 minutes a day but whatever your goal is, work your way up! It’s a skill and will take practice. If you’re wanting to use these tools to help you sleep, try starting them 30 minutes before going to bed. It can be difficult to keep that routine but with practice, it will be easy and research shows that it can bring great results!
Fun fact for your next party: Meditation increases the production of melatonin and can also improve the deep stages of sleep, stages 3 and 4. These stages heavily influence blood pressure and memory retention.