Get your sleep right, to improve your mental health

Most of us will spend around one third of our lives sleeping. Its occurrence is essential for our survival.

Research suggests sleep affects perceived pain, mood, attention and alertness during wake, risk-taking behaviour, appetite and food intake, healing of wounds, symptoms of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, the relationship between violence-induced traumatic stress and poorer health and functioning in children, general mental functioning, learning and memory, severity of post-traumatic stress (PTSD) symptoms, suicidal ideation, child behaviour problems, symptoms of schizophrenia, headaches, ADHD, the likelihood of experiencing postnatal depression, and mortality.

The far-reaching effects of sleep highlight the importance of scheduling an appropriate amount of time in our lives for it. We need to make necessary adjustments to our environment to enable ample quality of sleep (with regard given to noise, light, temperature etc.). Doing so can alleviate adverse physical and psychological symptoms, and thereby improve your quality of life.

Should you be unsuccessful in your attempts to obtain an appropriate amount/ quality of sleep, a psychologist can assist you. In doing so, they will discuss the factors that affect sleep. A psychologist will help you to understand how various factors in your life can impact on your sleep.

For optimal sleep, it is important to have a routine, engage in regular exercise (giving regard to the time of day you do this), avoid caffeine (especially after 4pm), and avoid mental stimulation before retiring. Mental stimulaton includes avoiding ‘blue light’ (emitted by televisions, computer screens, ipads and smart phones) which can make our brain think it is daytime and should be avoided in the latter half of the evening.

Should you have trouble sleeping even after working on the above factors, you may find specific non-pharmaceutical interventions beneficial (e.g. hypnosis, progressive muscle relaxation). Your psychologist will also be able to assist you with these.

If, after implementing the above, you still struggle to get ample sleep, your may have a sleep disorder. Your psychologist can make refer you to a sleep specialist who can assess, diagnose and treat such.

Often clients ask about pharmaceutical interventions with regard to sleep (i.e. prescription medication/ ‘sleeping tablets’). Whilst ‘sleeping tablets’ are not universally discouraged, the lack of long-term efficacy of prescription sedatives in promoting sleep should be noted.

Disrupted sleep is also a symptom of depression. You should be made aware that some antidepressant medications can derange sleep patterns and reduce restorative sleep. A GP or psychologist can provide you with more information about this.

Dennison Psychology's Clinical Psychologist Emily Wall, has a particular interest in assisting clients who have problems with insomnia.

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