February 21, 2019

Sleep as Source of Energy: Your Mental Health Depends on It

“Like a drunk, a person who is sleep-deprived has no idea how functionally impaired he or she truly is.”  Charles Czeisler… Sleep researcher Harvard Medical School

Are you tossing and turning all night? Or do you sleep like a baby?

In his book, “The Way We are Working Isn’t Working,” Tony Schwartz is rather dramatic with the title of the chapter on sleep — SLEEP OR DIE.  He makes the case with example after example of decreased performance or decreased health when we don’t regularly have 7-9 hours of sleep. He notes we can become like a drunk unaware of our inability to perform and, in the most extreme cases, can become psychotic.

Not sleeping can become a vicious cycle. The more a person doesn’t sleep the harder they try and the more upset they can make themselves over missing sleep, thus intensifying the cycle. Evidence is clear that the resulting decrease of energy diminishes ability to combat depression, anxiety and physical illness.

So what can we do to intervene? Below are some guidelines

1.  Under the supervision of a physician eliminate use of sleeping pills. Its effects are temporary, often losing effectiveness in 2-4 weeks. A person may develop a dependence on these medications. There may be a “rebound effect.”

2.  Reduce consumption of alcohol and caffeine. Both disrupt Delta (deep) sleep. No alcohol 2 hours prior to bed time. No caffeine (a stimulant) 6 hours prior. Nicotine is a stimulant. Non smokers fall asleep faster than smokers.

3.  Exercise in late afternoon or early evening. This raises body temperature and is conducive to Delta sleep. On the other hand exercising more intensely than you are used to, close to bed time can stimulate your body and interfere with sleep.  

4.  Plan tomorrow’s activities two hours prior to bed time. Use the two hours to wind down with relaxing activities. TV is designed to keep you stimulated; it can keep you awake. Eating a light carbohydrate snack will also help produce serotonin, a chemical that helps produce sleep.

5.  Be in bright lights much of the day. This helps the body better adjust to the cycle of sleep. Prior to bed begin to dim lights in the house. This encourages the body to produce serotonin and Melatonin another chemical the body naturally produces that helps with sleep.

6.  Take a warm shower or bath to help the body naturally begin to produce serotonin and Melatonin.

7.  Make your environment conducive to sleep. This would include a darkened environment with minimal sound. Cooler temperatures are more conducive to sleep as it helps reduce the core temperature of the body.

8.  Reduce fluid intake.

9.  Avoid a heavy meal before bedtime. Do not go to bed too full or too hungry

10. If your mind is racing consider Schwartz’s idea to “Park your anxieties.” There is evidence that writing down your worries before bed time gives the mind permission to set aside those concerns temporarily and go to sleep. The same can be used in the middle of the night if awakening to worries.

This list comprises “sleep hygiene.” If you struggle to sleep, try these ideas and expect gradual but consistent change. It will take about two weeks to make a noticeable difference.

Bill

If problems persist contact me at my office for more structured intervention. Sleep tight.

Comments

  1. I have never seen the importance of sleep put in these terms (like a drunk who does not realize how functionally impaired he or she truly is). What a wake up call to make a full 7-9 hour night of sleep a priority. Sleep or die? I chose sleep! Thank you, Bill! Great article.

  2. Bea Sousa says:

    For years I suffered from the inability to stay asleep. I awoke after a few hours and couldn’t go back to sleep. Retirement cured me, so I am now assuming much of my problem was a stressful job (classroom teacher).

    • Hi Bea,
      It seems that teaching and similar jobs (also being a student) bring a different challenge to sleep in that there seems there is always, untill the end of the semester or end of the year something to do. I like the cure!

  3. Great post. Excellent practical tools to improve sleep. Just today I saw confirmation of your message, as researchers have linked sleep problems to depression, psychosis, and suicide.

    And thanks for the referral to The Energy Project.