Sleep & Mental Health

Feb. 8, 2021

Sleep health is fundamental in supporting emotional wellbeing. Likewise, emotional wellbeing is fundamental in supporting sleep health. This relationship makes sleep habits difficult to balance as it is often affected by life stressors. Life stressors can vary and are different for everyone. Adjusting to a new environment, changes in family dynamics, changes in relationship status, loss of a loved one and surviving a traumatic experience are just a few examples of life stressors that can play a role in sleep health and emotional wellbeing.

College is a stressful life event for most people. Constantly faced with tons to do and little time to do it, finding time to spend with those we care about, studying, writing that extra credit paper or making last-minute social plans can be difficult to fit in. Sometimes in order to make it all fit, we make the choice to sacrifice our sleep. However, it is important to remember that meeting our psychological needs like sleep, sets a foundation for accomplishing our goals. Sleep helps with possessing daily events and retaining information. Sleep is the body's necessary downtime, used for healing muscles and strengthening our immune system.  

The body naturally tells us when our sleep health and emotional wellbeing needs attention. One of the most important things we can do is be mindful of common behavioral and physiological cues. Some include:

  • irritability
  • grogginess/fatigue
  • struggling to recall information
  • lack of motivation
  • persistent unhelpful thoughts
  • forgetfulness               
  • feeling overwhelmed
  • muscle tension
  • headaches

During stressful periods make time for sleep. Make it a priority. This will not only support memory retrieval and processing but will help to support a positive mood, increase energy and improve your ability to cope with stress. 

Here are some simple strategies to keep sleep in mind during highly emotional and stressful times (you know, like a pandemic!

  • Establish a routine before bedtime to help your brain tell your body its almost time for bed. Take a hot shower, drink some tea, read, color, sit outside. Getting into a nightly groove will help your mind identify when to produce melatonin, the natural brain hormone that makes us sleepy.
  • Plan to have at least 60 minutes of down time before bed. Yes, that means putting down the electronics, schoolwork and work-work. This can be difficult to adjust to, so at first be conscious of the content you are taking in. Keep material breezy, carefree and neutral. This time should be done out of bed, which leads to...
  • If you cannot fall asleep, get out of bed and do something calming. When you start to feel tired return to bed. Repeat this process if you cannot fall asleep after 20 minutes. The key part of this suggestion is to not lay awake in bed and to avoid activating your emotional and problem-solving mind (turning your bed into a frustrating place to be).
  • Are you worrying a lot? Is it causing you to stay awake? Plan to have worry time several hours before bed. Take a full 10 minutes to go over your to-do's, yesterday’s, tomorrow’s should’s, should’ves and what if’s.  Continue worrying even if you have not reached the 10-minute mark. End this time with a breathing exercise or a progressive muscle relaxation and continue your day.
  • Most importantly, practice self-compassion and grace. Life is full of ups and downs; we get through them as best we can. Seek support when you need it. Tapping into natural supports like family and friends can be helpful. Structured mental health supports can also be supportive with addressing concerns that come with difficult times.

Remember:

  • The events that impact our mental health, also impact our sleep. 
  • The restorative sleep we get positively impacts our mental health.