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Boosting mental health with sleep

Earlier in the year, we partnered with psychologist Lauretta Wilson for the very first episode of The Vaillant Podcast to talk about mental health and why it is important to our overall wellbeing.

As part of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, we have teamed up with Lauretta again; this time to uncover how being kinder to ourselves, particularly when it comes to sleep and exercise, can play an important role in supporting our mental health.

In this blog post, we explore the role sleep plays in mental wellbeing and uncover some of Lauretta’s top tips for getting a good night’s kip.

Sleep is incredibly important for mental health. And with us spending more time indoors with family at the moment it’s important we look out for each other and look for ways to be kinder to each other.

We are all aware of the impact a poor night’s sleep can have on our mood the following day, so it comes as no surprise that many clinical studies have linked ongoing poor sleep quality with poor mental health. In fact, a study recently found that respondents’ reaction times following a bad night’s sleep were similar to that of a person who had been drink driving₁, which is very alarming.

Yet, on the flip side of this, good quality sleep (adults need on average between 7-9 hrs a night) has been found to help protect against depression and anxiety and boost our immune system, while also improving focus, concentration and social skills - including empathy - which are all really important when it comes to running a business!

There are certain practices that we all know help us to sleep better, from not drinking caffeine and limiting our use of devices that emit blue light, such as mobile phones and laptops, in the hours before bed, to making sure our bedroom is dark and set to a comfortable temperature. However, there are also some less obvious solutions.

So, when it comes to improving sleep quality, Lauretta’s top tips are:

Routine

The human brain responds well to habits. So, it is important that we develop a solid sleep routine. For example, an hour before bed, it is a good idea to switch off our mobile phones, limit our fluid intake and brush your teeth. Over time, our brains will learn to associate this pattern of activity with sleep, meaning that falling to sleep should become easier, but also, once you drift off, you’re also more likely to enjoy better quality sleep.

The good news for those who have to work unsociable hours and respond to emergency call outs, is that the time of day has been shown to have little impact on the effectiveness of a sleep routine. So, regardless of the time we actually to go to bed, once we start the routine our brains will automatically recognise that it’s time to sleep.

Bedroom etiquette

Together with a solid routine, associating your bedroom with sleep will also help you to enjoy a better quality of sleep. Where possible it’s important that bedrooms are only used for sleeping, so avoid reading or watching TV in bed, both before bedtime and when waking the following morning.

Beware of helping hands

While alcohol and sleeping tablets have been shown to help us initially nod off, both have been found to result in a poorer quality of sleep₂, which, over time, could impact negatively on mental wellbeing. If you struggle to fall asleep you might want to consider drinking a glass of warm milk, which contains tryptophan, an amino acid that can help to induce sleep an hour before bed. Similarly, you might want to try reading a book (though nothing too exciting!) to help you relax.

What to do if you have a bad night’s sleep

It is important to remember that even with the best possible sleep routine, we will all, at some point or another, suffer with a bad night’s sleep. From day-to-day business pressures to overdoing it at the weekend, both can mean our sleep suffers. Yet, while your natural instinct may be to catch up on lost sleep the following day, you should exercise caution with this. Naps should be limited to no more than 30 minutes, as any longer can affect our sleep the following night and become the start of a sleep cycle which is difficult to break.

For further information on Mental Health Awareness Week 2020, please visit: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week

1 https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/1355977/Lack-of-sleep-is-worse-than-alcohol.html

2 https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/alcohol-facts/health-effects-of-alcohol/effects-on-the-body/alcohol-and-sleep/