Studies show that sleep is vital for our physical and also our mental health.
When we experience stress in our life, chances are our sleep will be affected. You may find that you might be struggling to fall or stay asleep at night.
Your anxious worry about life and its problems may keep your brain from settling down, and the disruption of sleep is likely to keep you feeling more on edge the next day. The less sleep you get the more anxious you feel and so on.
With four children, I for one certainly know how difficult it can be at times to get the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep each night. But, how important really is sleep? To our health and our wellbeing but also for our minds?
Studies show that sleep is vital for our physical and also our mental health. When our circadian rhythm breaks down we are at increased risk for an illness which can include dementia, heart disease and diabetes.
1. Sleep gives your brain and body time to heal
Healthy sleep has been proven to be the most important factor in predicting longevity, even more influential than exercise, diet, or genetics. Studies have shown that almost every system of the body is affected by the quality and quantity of sleep a person gets, especially the brain. Sleep gives the body's neurons a chance to shut down and repair themselves. Without that opportunity, neurons become so depleted and polluted through normal cellular activities that they begin to malfunction. Sleep provides cells with increased protein production that fuels growth and repairs damage incurred by stress and other factors.
2. To regulate our mood
We need 7-9 hours of sleep each night to help regulate our moods and behaviour. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation can be associated with emotional regulation and addictive behaviours. Leading to increased behavioural activity to the negative. Meaning all the effort you may be putting in during the day may not have its full benefits because your lack of sleep is not allowing your brain to self regulate.
3. Helps us problem solve
In the first two stages of sleep, our brains are literally going back over our day and deciding which memories to keep and which ones to forget. Sleep helps to make the connection between feelings and memories that we may not have formed awake. Ever heard the saying “I’ll sleep on it?. A problem may seem clearer after our brain has been given the rested chance to go back over it again.
Tips for Improving Sleep and Managing Anxiety
1. Move your body
Exercise has been found to both lower anxiety and improves sleep. But try not to exercise right before sleep, as it can keep you awake. Moving your body in the morning or afternoon can help you get your sleeping and waking cycle back on track and also treat insomnia.
2. Try meditation
Learning to quiet your mind can be a helpful skill, both for navigating stressful daytime periods but also for falling asleep at night. If you’ve never tried it, start with as little as a couple of minutes of sitting quietly and focusing on your inhale and exhale.
There are many relaxation techniques that can help- Mindfulness meditation, yoga, and breathing exercise can help you achieve calm, but it can also be as simple as taking a walk when you have a short break at work. If you practice techniques for calming your mind during the day, then it will be easier to trigger your relaxation response at night.
3. Set bedtime alarm
Let your alarm clock tell you when to go to bed. Set it at least 30-40 minutes before your bedtime to give you time to follow your bedtime routine and to fall asleep. Before you go to bed, remember to reset your alarm for your morning wake up time! It can be so easy to stay up enjoying the peace and quiet especially if you have had a busy day, a gentle alarm reminder can be great to remind yourself how important a good night’s sleep is.
4. Limit screen time
Your phone, tablet, and TV emit blue light that keeps your brain awake, so try to limit them an hour before bedtime. Checking email or doing work right before bed can also trigger anxious thoughts and make it difficult to calm your brain. Instead, consider listening to music or reading a book to quiet your mind.
5. Write your list down
Instead of letting your brain swirl with all the things that you don’t want to forget to take care of, write them down so your brain can relax and let go. Keep a notepad on your bedside table so if something does pop into your head when you’re trying to fall asleep you can write that down too.
6. Don’t lie in bed awake
If you can’t fall asleep for more than 20 minutes, give yourself a do-over. Get up, keeping the lights low, and do something relaxing. Have a cup of herbal tea and read a book. But avoid screens: The blue light we mentioned above can signal to your brain that it’s time to wake up.
Still not sleeping? If you think that you might have more serious sleep problems, clinical anxiety, or clinical depression, talk to your doctor. A specialist can help you find treatment plan so you can manage your symptoms and get the sleep you need.
Laura Doyle, Mum of 4. Kyle 9, Noa Belle 4, Briar 2 and Milla 12 months. Breastfeeder, co-sleeper, coffee drinker. Staying positive and inspired by the chaos of it all. Follow her on Instagram.