Originally published in BSA Society Matters magazine.
By the Mental Health Foundation.
We spend about a third of our lives asleep. Sleep is as important to our bodies as eating, drinking and breathing, and is vital for maintaining good mental and physical health.
Millions of people struggle with sleep. Around four in 10 are not getting enough, while one in five sleep badly most nights (Royal Society for Public Health).
Mental Health Foundation research suggests that sleeping well is one of the best things people can do to look after their emotional wellbeing: it’s the unsung hero of mental health.
Most people will know from experience that when we’re struggling emotionally, sleep is one of the first things that suffers. Stress, anxiety or feeling down can make it harder to fall, and stay, asleep.
Around 60% of people say their sleep suffers when they’re stressed, (YouGov 2018).
The sleep-mental health picture is complex. But the bottom line is this: sleeping well is essential to everyone’s good mental (and physical) health.
That’s why the Mental Health Foundation decided to focus on sleep during this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, which runs from 18th-24th May.
During the Week, we will reveal new research about what really affects sleep and what we can all do to sleep better.
The Foundation wants to start a national conversation about sleep. We also want to highlight how the circumstances in which millions of us find ourselves are preventing us from getting a restful night – and therefore from thriving.
We want to investigate the changes we could make as individuals, communities and as a society, to enable everyone get the rest and renewal we all need. And we hope others will join the conversation.
We use the acronym HEAL to help you consider how you could improve your sleep:
Mental health problems like depression and anxiety often go hand-in-hand with sleep problems. It’s important to get any health concerns addressed, both for helping physical symptoms and for addressing any worries that might keep you awake.
Where you sleep is important. The bedroom and bed should be places you associate with sleep. In particular watching TV, playing with phones or tablets or eating in bed can all affect the quality of our sleep. Temperature, noise levels and light all play a part in determining our sleep. If you experience poor sleep, keep a sleep diary to identify patterns which can help recognise a problem.
It’s easiest to get to sleep when we are able to relax and let go of concerns. We’ve all had nights where we lie awake and worry. In the time before we go to bed, we should try and wind down, be less stimulated and relax. These days this can be harder than ever but relaxation techniques, a warm bath or mindfulness practice can all help. If you find you can’t sleep, it is always best to get up, make a warm drink and try again when you feel sleepier. It can be tempting to look at the TV or your phone screen but this may stimulate you and make it harder to nod off.
Stimulants like caffeine can make it harder to sleep, and a heavy or sugary meal close to bedtime can make sleep uncomfortable. Alcohol might seem to help you get to sleep but it reduces the quality of sleep later. Exercising during the day is a good way to aid sleep but it releases adrenaline, so exercising during the evening may be less helpful.
Mental Health Awareness Week runs from 18-24 May. Find out how to sleep better with this guide.