“The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep.” — E. Joseph Cossman, American businessman and author
It’s hard to overstate the good that sleep does for the human body.
Sleep is our natural recovery period, when all of our bodily systems can recuperate and reenergize for continued use. It plays a pivotal role in the functioning of our endocrine and immune systems, and it’s essential for maintaining mood, memory and cognitive performance. Unfortunately, too many of us take for granted the benefits that sleep provides.
The average adult needs at least 7 hours of sleep every 24 hours. However, the CDC reported that 35.2% of all American adults did not meet this threshold in 2014. (In Indiana, rates of insufficient sleep surpassed the national average at 38.0–44.1 percent.) This is a worrying trend, because not getting enough sleep can lead to serious issues for physical and mental health.
To learn more about the connection between sleep and mental health, we spoke with Cummins psychologist Dr. Ashleigh Woods. Below, she explains some of the negative health consequences of chronic sleep deprivation and a few simple things we can all do to improve the quality of our sleep.
Dr. Ashleigh Woods on the Psychological Power of Sleep
Ashleigh Woods, Psy.D., HSPP, holds a degree in Clinical Psychology and is a staff psychologist at Cummins’ Indianapolis office. As part of her work, she helps clients who are struggling with insomnia and other sleep disorders.
“There’s a huge connection between mental health and sleep,” Dr. Woods says. “If you’re not getting enough sleep or good quality sleep, you’ll have a harder time managing your emotions, and you could have trouble focusing or thinking clearly. Let’s face it—everything is harder when you’re not well rested.”
In fact, research has shown that sleep deprivation is closely related with psychiatric disorders such as major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, PTSD, schizophrenia and alcoholism. Many people who have these conditions experience difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep, and evidence suggests that chronic sleep deprivation may even contribute to the development of some of these disorders.
However, it’s possible to break the vicious cycle of sleep deprivation and psychological impairment if we make an effort to follow good sleep practices. In many cases, treating a sleep disorder can alleviate the symptoms of co-occurring mental health conditions.
Best Practices for Falling (and Staying) Asleep
So, what can we do to improve our sleep habits? For the average, healthy person, the simplest and most obvious solution is to get enough sleep each night. Most adults need at least 7 hours of sleep every day, but this number could be higher or lower based on your individual physiology. As a general rule, if you don’t feel sleepy during the day, especially when sitting quietly, then you are getting enough sleep.
But what about people who have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep? Fortunately, there are many interventions you can try for better sleep hygiene, as Dr. Woods explains:
“To get a good night’s sleep, be sure to use your bed for only sleep or sex. Reading or watching TV in bed keeps your brain active and makes your body associate your bed with wakefulness. Also be sure to create a good bed time routine to help your body wind down in the evening: limit screen time, use lamps instead of overhead lights, don’t drink caffeine past 2:00 p.m., limit alcohol and cigarette use before bed, and most importantly, add some relaxing activities to your evening, such as taking a warm bath or doing some gentle yoga stretches.”
Relaxation techniques such as autogenic training can also be helpful for falling asleep and promoting deep, restorative sleep. However, autogenic training should be performed with help from a mental health specialist before you try practicing it on your own.
For more tips and suggestions for healthy sleep habits, check out the following resources:
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