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The Importance of Sleep for Mental Health

Sleep for Mental Health

It’s no coincidence that many people who are struggling with their mental health will complain about problems with their sleep. Getting enough, good quality sleep is crucially important to maintaining physical and mental health. At The Pavilion in Williamsburg, Virginia, we treat a wide range of mental health conditions, and we see how sleeping well improves our clients’ quality of life.

What Sleep Problems Look Like

Sleep difficulties can manifest in a variety of different ways:

  • Trouble falling asleep
  • Inability to stay asleep
  • Waking prematurely
  • Sleep apnea, which causes people to stop breathing while asleep and prevents them from getting as much benefit as they should from their rest
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Narcolepsy
  • Nightmares

Consequences of Poor Sleep

People who don’t get enough sleep or whose sleep is poor in quality are more likely to experience:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Eating disorders
  • Psychosis symptoms, including delusions and hallucinations
  • Frequent mental distress

These mental health conditions are also correlated to decision-making and a wide variety of physical health issues, such as:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Obesity 
  • Stroke
  • Poor immune system functioning

How Much Sleep You Need

Each person is unique, so there may be some degree of variation in how much sleep a person needs at various stages of life, but the National Sleep Foundation recommends the following:

  • Toddlers – 11-14 hours
  • Preschoolers – 10-13 hours
  • School-aged children – 9-11 hours
  • Teenagers – 8-10 hours
  • Adults – 7-9 hours
  • Seniors – 7-8 hours

How to Know if You’re Getting the Sleep You Need

If you have a physical illness, you may need more sleep than the guidelines above recommend because your body is using a lot of energy to fight off sickness. You will know if you are getting enough good sleep based on your answer to the following:

  • Are you tired a lot?
  • Do you need caffeine to get through the day?
  • Do you wake up a lot?
  • Do you wake up feeling refreshed?
  • Do you start to feel tired while driving or watching television?

Hallmarks of Good Sleep

Another way to measure how well you are sleeping is to examine how many of the following indicators of quality sleep you generally experience:

  • Sleeping at least 85 percent of the time that you are in bed
  • Falling asleep in under 30 minutes
  • Waking up for less than 20 minutes, no more than once per night

Ways to Address Poor Sleep

It is often not necessary to suffer from sleep disturbances. Many people are able to take steps to effectively address their sleep difficulties:

  • Talking to a doctor – If you sleep all night but wake up feeling tired, you may be taking medication or have an underlying medical concern that is causing your sleep to be less beneficial. Some medical conditions that can lead to poor sleep quality are also potentially life-threatening, such as sleep apnea, where a person stops breathing for a short period of time while asleep. For this reason, it is important to seek medical attention right away if your sleep is not leaving you feeling rested. 
  • Building good sleep habits – Having a consistent time for falling asleep and waking up, limiting caffeine intake to early in the day, getting some sunshine during the daylight hours, avoiding food immediately before bed, following a nightly routine that limits stimulating activities later in the evening in favor of soft music, reading a book or meditation, and reserving your bed for sleeping and sex only will help your brain to recognize when it is time for rest.
  • Creating a space that is optimized for sleep Ideally, your bedroom should be quiet, dark, cool but not cold, and furnished with a comfortable bed. If you find that your pet frequently wakes you up, it may be a good idea to keep them out of your room while you are asleep.
  • Practicing relaxation techniques – Deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and mindfulness are all strategies that can help calm your mind and make it easier to get good sleep.
  • Exercising – Working out in a way that is appropriate for your age and fitness level can make it easier to fall asleep at night. 
  • Attending mental health therapy – Negative thoughts and worry keep people awake at night, but addressing those issues can make it easier to get the rest you need.

At The Pavilion, we take a whole-person approach to mental health treatment. We recognize that the mind, body, and spirit are connected and that our clients are best able to manage their mental health when they are fully supported in all areas of their well-being.

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