Stress Reduction Basics: Sleep – The Bedrock of Mental Health

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by Glynis Sherwood

Sometimes finding solutions to stress, or ways to improve our psychological well being in general, can seem too complicated. Many of us feel we have too much on our plate and live in a constant state of overwhelm. And the digital technology that was supposed to free us can easily translate into working or being accessible 24/7. But reducing stress doesn’t have to be time consuming.

Often the solutions to chronic stress lie in paring things down and focusing on cultivating a few ‘basics’ of good mental and physical health care.  It’s easy to forget the fundamentals when as a culture we are increasingly pressured to live life in the fast lane.  Here’s a primer on how to get back to the basics, starting with sleep, the bedrock of mental health.


Sleep – Why It’s Important and How to Get It  

Good sleep Is essential to psychological well being:  

Deep, regular and adequate sleep is the foundation of good mental health and our ability to manage stress. Sleep appears to both nourish and repair the physical brain and the mind.  To demonstrate how critical that connection is, experiments have been conducted where well adjusted university students were deliberately sleep deprived, the result being that their mental health started to unravel in a few short days.

Many people have chronic problems with sleep due to over-stimulation before bedtime, alcohol use or aging. There’s also the problem of false bravado promoted by our culture – i.e. promoting the idea that you are somehow superior to others if you can get a lot done with as little sleep as possible.  As a consequence of these habits and myths, 1 in 3 people are sleep deprived and therefore chronically irritable, frustrated or tense – in 2 words, stressed out.

Chronic Sleep Deprivation and Mental Health Problems:

Sleep deprivation has a negative impact on day to day mood, but also serious consequences for mental stability and physical health.  A study conducted at the University of Northern Texas in 2005 concluded that people who are chronically sleep deprived are at ten times greater risk for depression, and seventeen times more likely to experience anxiety.

People who are sleep deprived are also less likely to engage in habits that support health in general such as eating properly, exercising, or participating in leisure activities.  Sleep deprivation also impairs memory, slows thought processes, learning and reaction time.  The long term negative effects lead to decreased quality of life, happiness and healthy relationships.


13 Tips for High Quality Sleep

1.    Remove or unplug electronic devices in the bedroom, such as cell phones, computers and televisions.   Electromagnetic fields have been linked with a variety of health disorders, including insomnia.

2.    Sleep in total darkness.  Purchase black out curtains or blinds, or use a sleep mask if you can’t screen out sources of outside light.  Spend 60 minutes before sleep in reduced light.

3.    If you must work on computer before bedtime, install an app (e.g. F.lux) that gradually reduces the amount of light from your screen at night to imitate sun down.  This is an important step in preparing your brain for deep sleep.  (I use F.lux, and find the change from bright blue to orange light at night soothing and easy to get used to.  You can also increase the light at night temporarily if the work you are doing requires more illumination)

4.    Settle your mind by reducing stimulation 45 to 60 minutes before sleeping.  This includes turning off TV, computers, and avoiding reading that is exciting (e.g. page turning novel), demanding (e.g. studying) or upsetting (e.g. news).  If you have trouble falling or staying asleep, try listening to a relaxation audio and/or taking a warm (not hot) bath.

5.    Meditation just prior to bedtime can be a great way to quiet the mind and relax the body through abdominal breathing.  You can even meditate sitting up in bed, and then just slide down under the covers if you start to get sleepy.

6.    Don’t go to bed hungry.  Have a light snack before sleep, such as fruit, or almond milk.  It will induce sleepiness.

7.    Designate the bedroom as a sleep zone only.  Avoid the temptation to work or watch TV in bed.  That way your mind will associate the room with rest and quiet.

8.    To avoid middle of the night bathroom breaks, don’t drink liquids before bed, especially if you are prone to interrupted sleep.

9.    Take very small doses of Melatonin, 1 to 2 hours before bedtime, especially if you are over 40.  Melatonin is a natural hormone that induces sleep in response to decreased sunlight, but is produced in smaller amounts as we age. To achieve physiologically normal levels of melatonin in the blood, an oral dose should be around 0.1 to 0.2 mg (100 – 200 mcg).  This will produce levels mimicing those normally present in the body. Melatonin is available over the counter.  Take B12 to help activate the Melatonin.

10.    Don’t drink any alcohol at least 3 hours before bedtime.  Avoid alcohol altogether if you have insomnia.

11.    Sleep requirements vary with individuals, but make sure you commit to getting at least 6 hours per night.  Most people need between 7.5 and 9 hours per sleep cycle.

12.    Are you menopausal?  Hot flashes can play havoc with sleep.  Consult with a Naturopath or MD with a background in Bio-identical Hormone therapy.

13.     If you are suffering from Anxiety or Depression, consider attending stress counselling to get support and constructive strategies for getting back on your feet, sooner rather than later.


Need help managing stress?  Struggling with Insomnia or Sleep Deprivation due to Stress, Anxiety or Sadness?   Contact Glynis to Request an Appointment   

Counselling is available in person, by Phone or Skype video worldwide.

Glynis Sherwood – MEd, Canadian Certified Counsellor, Registered Clinical Counsellor, and Certified Addictions Counsellor, specializes in recovery from chronic Stress, Anxiety, Depression, Grief and Addictive Behaviors.  I look forward to hearing from you and helping you achieve the life you want and deserve!