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Poor sleep and its link to poor mental health

How does sleep and mental health effect each other? What is the link between anxiety and depression and sleep?

Sweet, sweet, slumber. Its something that we all long for but frustratingly and worryingly for many, a good nights sleep is elusive and hard to get.

The reasons are multi faceted and complex.

Sleep deprivation takes its toll on so many levels, from interfering with your ability to be alert and make safe and responsible decisions, to being able to concentrate at work, to being able to regulate your emotions, to being able regulate your appetite (think the 3’oclock slump) and rush to find chocolate. It can also take a toll on your relationships if you are feeling fragile and perhaps irrational or hyper vigilant due to exhaustion. Nick Hobson, PhD, says “A sleepy brain is particularly susceptible to negative emotion states and heightened anxiety.”

Sleep troubles can be exacerbated by depression and anxiety, making it much harder to fall asleep or to be able to stay asleep.

Tossing and turning and fretting all night is very distressing especially when it feels like you are the only person awake in the still of the night and it can be very lonely and upsetting lying there with non stop racing thoughts or a pounding heart.

While there are over the counter/ prescription medications, they unfortunately only work for a short time, can be habit forming and lose their efficacy over time. Further, they then have terrible withdrawal effects if trying to stop them. It is really important to discuss all available options with your healthcare practitioner should this be something you may need to try.

There are many sleep hygiene ideas that are good to explore and to see what might work for you, because all our situations are different what works for one may not work for another.

The Black Dog Institute recommends the following tips for a good nights sleep:

  1. Keep a regular sleep-wake cycle (this means getting out of bed at the same time every day!)
  2. Get exposure to natural light in the morning (this suppresses the production of melatonin and helps you wake up)
  3. Use the bed only for sleeping and nothing else – this will help form and strengthen associations between the bed and sleep.
  4. Have a pre-bed night time routine (this signals to your body and mind to prepare for bed)
  5. Only go to sleep when tired (otherwise it can be very frustrating – after lying in bed for hours and not being able to sleep, this is likely to cause even more frustration and paradoxically, have the opposite effect of keeping you up)

If you feel you have exhausted all options, and yet a good nights sleep still eludes you it is important to reach out for help. A counsellor or therapist can help to explore what may be bothering you and work with you to find the best way to help you be able to rest your head on your pillow and get some much needed rest and help you restore your energy levels and vitality.

Ginette Lenham is an experienced counsellor with a Bachelor of Applied Social Science, Grad Dip (counselling) Psychotherapy and Coaching and a member of the Australian Counselling Association. She has worked as a therapist, co facilitator and facilitator of groups on self-esteem, behavioural change, mood disorders, drug and alcohol rehabilitation and weight loss support groups. She also works with clients, counselling them in areas such as grief, trauma, relationship and family conflicts, body images issues, depression, anxiety and other existential life concerns. Sometimes these concerns might co exist with weight problems or might be totally unrelated. 

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