Sleep problems are linked to mental health challenges; we know that. It stands to reason that when our mind isn’t feeling calm, for any reason, sleep isn’t possible. It seems unfair, then, that sleep is one of the most important things we can do to recover. Only by resting adequately can we maintain the clarity of thought, motivation and perspective we need to make healthy life choices repeatedly. It’s all a bit of a vicious circle.
And, if sleep is your mind’s healthy diet, meditation is its vitamin shot. Meditation is your superpower when it comes to relaxation and gaining a healthy perspective. However, the last thing on your mind when you’re battling anxiety, depression or figuring out how to manage ADHD is meditating.
Good sleep hygiene and mindfulness can be easier said than done
When it comes to getting enough re-energising sleep and practising recuperating mindfulness we all know we should. But, we don’t necessarily believe we could. When sleep hygiene is already poor (e.g. you’re taking naps through the day and find yourself wide awake, heart thumping in the middle of the night) forming good habits can feel impossible.
Before figuring out HOW it can be useful to understand WHY good sleep hygiene and meditation are critical. This can help you to take full advantage of these two empowering Peerhear Principles to move forward in your journey towards a fulfilling and mentally well life.
How sleep deprivation affects us
When we are sleeping we cycle through two states, roughly every 90 minutes. The first state called Non-REM or NREM sleep is also known as “quiet” sleep. During this state we progress gradually into deeper sleep while our breathing slows, our heart rate drops, muscles relax and body temperature lowers. In the depths of quiet sleep, our body is carrying out repairs and producing physiological changes that bolster our immune system.
The second stage of sleep is called REM (Rapid Eye Movement). During this state, we dream. Our body temperature is higher, heart rate and breathing faster. This important state of sleep enhances our learning and memory, as well as strengthens our emotional health. When we are sleep deprived we are physically and emotionally weaker. Sleep deprivation impacts the levels of neurotransmitters (like serotonin and dopamine) and stress hormones in our systems, leaving us feeling constantly unwell during waking hours. There is no doubt that insomnia, over time, has a significant impact on psychiatric disorders, and mental health in general.
Lack of sleep not only exacerbates depression, it can cause it!
Further to being an aggravator for depression and anxiety among other mental conditions, lack of sleep can cause them. The Harvard Health Publishing mental health newsletter features a fascinating study of approximately 1,000 adults aged between 21 and 30, revealing that those who reported a history of insomnia during an initial interview were “four times as likely to develop major depression by the time of a second interview three years later.”
On the flip side, meditation can put you on a highway to great mental health. It lets you use the power of awareness to let go of thoughts that are weighing you down. According to American mental health resource organisation rtor.org; “Meditation can give your brain the chemicals you aren’t producing by yourself when you are depressed.” It can actually help you sleep!
How to improve your sleep hygiene
I think we can agree, there is no downside to improving your sleep hygiene. Now, where to start. Peerhear founder Peter Burge has some go-to tactics he likes to use to make sure he’s getting enough sleep:
“Go to bed well before the time you need to sleep. That removes the pressure of having the fall asleep within a certain time limit,” he says. “I always have a journal nearby to offload thoughts from my day onto paper and leave them there. I make sure to not only write down things that are burdening me but things I am grateful for. Recognising what has gone well during the day sets your mind into a more peaceful state for sleep, I find.”
In fact, journaling is another of the core 10 Principles of Peerhear created to assist people on their journeys to mental health.
“Finally, creating a calming environment can work wonders. For some, that’s a scent like lavender. For me, it’s listening to soothing sounds on the Calm app on my tablet. I don’t recommend using mobile devices before bed, so you need to resist the temptation to take a peek at your email inbox!”
Using Meditation to encourage calm and boost sleep
Apps can also help you learn to meditate, with Headspace a popular choice. But it can even be simpler than that, says Peter: “People tend to think of meditation as some highly-skilled art, learned gradually over time. And it’s true, some become incredibly accomplished at it. But, if your purpose is to centre your thoughts and calm your mind, meditating is easier than you think.”
He continues: “The idea is to sit somewhere peaceful, away from distractions and focus on how you are feeling right now, in the current moment. That includes recognising the pattern of your breathing, how your limbs feel, whether you have areas that feel tense. By bringing your attention to the now, you are taking it away from the worries and concerns that are wreaking havoc in your mind.”
Doing as Peter advises at nighttime, right before going to bed, can help regulate your circadian rhythm and stimulate sleep-inducing hormones, like melatonin and cortisol.
Remember to prioritise rest
There you have it. Two tools that can help you walk an unwavering path to good mental health. So easy that you can even do them lying down! The next time you feel anxiety building or that telltale feeling of desperation that marks a bout of depression, ask yourself if your sleep hygiene and rest could be better. Giving these some attention could give you the strength you are looking for to make the other positive changes you need to turn your situation around.
Peerhear’s peers are experienced in advising on healthy habits to improve your mental health, including getting adequate, restful sleep. If you’d like to chat with a qualified ally who can support you in your journey to being the best version of you, book a free introductory telehealth meeting with a peer support worker today to find out how peer support could help you.