Mind Moves for Mental Health Week (And Beyond) – Improving Sleep

Sleep is the most common aspect of mental health which causes us to seek help from our GP. Problems here have a major knock on effect to our psychological health, immune system, perception of pain, digestion, concentration and feeling of general well-being. 
The good news is that once we start to think about making our quality of sleep better the research suggests we can usually find at least some way of improving things.

Both quality and duration of sleep tend to increase. 

What Can We Do to help address this?

How to Improve Our Sleep

Good sleep hygiene can improve our sleep quality

Stays in the system a long time as it is hard for the body to break down

Stimulates the Central Nervous System

Causes increased heart rate

Causes adrenaline production

Suppresses melatonin a hormone which helps us feel sleepy

Makes us fall asleep more easily but the quality of sleep is not as good

Interrupts sleep pattern in the second half of the night

Diuretic so need to get up to the toilet

Is a depressant and causes low mood which reduces sleep

Going cold turkey after a lot of alcohol causes withdrawal symptoms

Difficult to sleep if hungry so light snack can help (not protein)

Rice/oats cause small melatonin production

Diary contain tryptophan which aid manufacture of melatonin in body

Refined Sugar
Makes us more active and less sleepy

Better earlier in the day as increases adrenaline

Older adults found to sleep better with aerobic exercise

Physical fitness increases metabolism which results in better sleep

Reduces anxiety and improves mood causing better sleep

Light management
No IT equipment or TV in bedroom

No alarm with permanent light on bedside

Reduce blue light exposure

Stop interaction on social media etc at least an hour before sleep

Low lighting on run down to sleep

Blackout when wish to sleep (Blackout curtains in summer)

Comfortable bed

Noise stopped – or earplugs can help

Temperature – not too hot (17 degrees)

Good ventilation

Most common sleep medications are called hypnotics. Only helpful in short term (NICE guidelines say 2-4 weeks) as they are addictive also have rebound effects once come off them which can make sleep worse than it was to start with.

Psychological Approaches 
Aim to challenge the underlying thoughts and feelings about sleep.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has been found to be an effective part in treatment of insomnia. Including this as treatment package as follows will maximise your chances of making a positive change;1. Sleep Hygiene (as above)2. Relaxation Training3. Adjusting sleep patterns4. Altering the thoughts and behaviour which hinder sleep

People with insomnia often find it difficult to relax naturally before they go to sleep

Useful to use1. Breathing – Finger breathing/breathing and visualisation2. Muscle tension3. 1 hour wind down

These all take practice before they are mastered and it may take a little while to start to feel it is a comfortable part of your routine.

Adjusting Sleep Patterns
Monitor sleep diary for 2 weeks to see what is actually happening

Review findings in light of sleep hygiene protocol

Altering the Thought and Behaviour Which Hinder Sleep

Make the bedroom the place to sleep not eat/work/watch TV. If you wake and don’t get back to sleep within a few minutes try a relaxation exercise. If still awake get up and do something relaxing like reading the paper in another room until feel sleepy then return to bed.

Mental Wellbeing in the Workplace

Despite considerable improvements over the years in relation to attitudes to mental health many people continue to fear the “stigma” of revealing a mental health issue within their work environment.

One in Four

With one in four of us experiencing a mental health problem at any one time, it is a common occurrence which most of us will have to some degree at some point in our lives.

In the majority of cases the problem can be greatly improved through use of evidence based psychological treatments. The earlier problems are caught the better the outcome.  Fear of repercussions at work can unfortunately result in staff avoiding seeking help at the point when they most need it.  In the current economic climate they may feel resistance to seek appropriate help due to the fear of being negatively assessed within a competitive or uncertain employment environment.

There is also some variation in how men and women approach mental health issues both in and out of the work environment. Women are more likely for example to use their own social support networks to work through a problem or to seek professional help while men are more likely to keep an issue to themselves without seeking the help which could improve their situation. As they are less likely to share these feelings, this can add to their experience of isolation increasing the chances of stress, anxiety and depression. Being aware of this gender biased tendency can help men to increase their awareness and avoid these pitfalls.

Companies can help by providing support through EAP access for less severe issues and access to trained Clinical Psychologists for the more serious mental health issues. These include depression, extreme anxiety and PTSD where the need for therapy at an advanced skill level is required.

Copyright Dr Linda Gibson May 2017