When it comes to mental health, it’s important to get back to basics.
Your daily routine including your diet, movement and sleep have a big impact on your mental wellness.
Insomnia has been on the rise since the pandemic, and is also more common in those with existing mental health conditions. Worry and frustration about not being able to sleep can perpetuate insomnia, making it harder to get a good night’s sleep.
Everyday stressors and our modern lifestyles can also take a toll on one’s ability to get a good quality sleep.
Historically, before electricity, we would rise with the sun, and go to sleep when the sun set. Our bodies have evolved to follow this pattern.
The body has a natural sleep-wake cycle called the circadian rhythm; in the morning, cortisol is released to stimulate the body to wake up, and as the light fades in the evening, melatonin (the sleep hormone) is released. Following this natural cycle is the best way to promote a good nights sleep.
Sleep is necessary for your brain and body to repair itself and consolidate information from the day. Part of this process is a flushing of the brain that detoxes any metabolic waste products and allows cells to remain healthy and function optimally. Long term, this also helps prevent chronic health issues and reduce your risk for diseases such dementia.
Adequate sleep allows all parts of your brain to function optimally.
When you’re well rested you’re less emotionally reactive because your forebrain - the logical, reasoning area, is more active, and your hindbrain (the emotional centre) is less active.
When you’re sleep deprived, your emotional centers; your hind brain and amygdala are more active, and you become more emotionally reactive. You may notice you react to small things more easily and are more mentally fatigued.
Common causes of insomnia
Brain chemical imbalances (especially low serotonin or GABA)
Stress hormones: peaking of cortisol in the evening or during the night
Blood sugar imbalances
Mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and PTSD
Side effect of medications
Sex hormone shifts (premenstrual and menopause)
Sleep apnea (when breathing stops multiple times throughout the night)
Lack of movement/sedentary lifestyle
Screen time before bed (reduced melatonin production)
Eating before bed
Caffeine intake later in the day
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends at least 7 hours per night, and most adults need between 7 to 9 hours to feel rested. It’s not just the quantity of sleep, but the quality of sleep that matters, too. Deep sleep is most important for the brain to repair itself.
Tips to get a good night's sleep
Keep your bedroom cool, dark and quiet
Avoid screens at least 2 hours before bed to allow for optimal melatonin production
Seek support for mental health concerns
Try a sleepy time tea such as chamomile, lavender or lemon balm
Have the same bedtime and routine every night
Add movement to your day
Get sunlight exposure in the morning
Avoid eating large meals or high sugar foods before bed
Using deep belly breathing to calm your nervous system and shift your body into a relaxed sleep state
If you’ve tried these tips and you’re still struggling with insomnia or waking up unrefreshed and it’s impacting your mental health, it may be useful to see your doctor as well as reach out to a therapist for support.
Thanks for reading,