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Why Sleep Matters

Why Sleep Matters

by Spencer Lee, LCSWA

Sleep is vital to our health and well-being and most of us don’t get enough of it. The amount of sleep necessary for optimal health varies by age. Babies need about 16 hours, teenagers should strive for 9, while adults need between 7-9 hours every night. The National Sleep Foundation found that 39% of Americans get less than 7 hours of sleep each night while up to 50% feel sleepy during the day between 3 and 7 days out of the week. 

The National Institute of Health has found that adequate sleep is associated with higher levels of productivity, improved memory recall, better mood, and alertness. Sleep has not only been found to benefit us cognitively and emotionally, but also physically. While we sleep, our body releases specific hormones that aid in cell repair and muscle recovery. Getting enough sleep each night can help us in reducing stress, maintaining a healthy weight, and keeping our immune system in tip-top shape. Getting a good night’s rest also helps keep us safe by preventing accidents caused by sleepy drivers!

Sleep has benefits for our mind and body. And when we don’t get the right amount of sleep, we start to experience the opposite side of those benefits. 

 

What Happens When We Don’t Get Enough Sleep?

Johns Hopkins Medicine defines sleep deprivation as getting less than 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Sleep deprivation can be the result of numerous underlying factors such as: insomnia, stress, aging, depression, restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, side effects from medications, or changes in lifestyle such as starting a new job or having a newborn. 

Sleep deprivation has short and long term effects. Short term symptoms present as feeling tired, difficulty concentrating, experiencing “brain fog”, trouble with memory, and even a compromised immune system. Long term effects of sleep deprivation include mood swings, hallucinations, increased risk of stroke, and an increased risk of developing mental illness. 

Sleep and mental health are closely connected- the less you sleep, the more likely you are to struggle with mental health and those who experience mental illness often struggle with sleep the most. You can read more here about the link between mental health and sleep. 

Reclaiming better sleep in your life could be a matter of lifestyle changes, medication, or even therapy. 

 

Can Therapy Improve Your Sleep?

Since we know that sleep and mental health are a two-way street, therapy can be effective in treating both!

A trained therapist will be able to not only assist you in getting better sleep, but also in managing any fears, stress, or anxiety surrounding difficulty sleeping. Similarly, treatment for depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns can improve sleep simultaneously. Specific to treating sleep, there is a type of therapy called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) that has been proven through research to improve sleep. In a peer reviewed article published by the National Library of Medicine, researchers compiled various studies showing how CBT-I was used to successfully treat insomnia with and without co-occurring mental health concerns. 

CBT for insomnia involves making both behavioral and cognitive changes to help with sleep. The first step of CBT-I involves learning about sleep hygiene (see below) which refers to how well we prepare ourselves for adequate sleep. The second component of CBT-I addresses any beliefs, fears, or unrealistic expectations contributing to difficulty sleeping. Stillpoint Counseling and Wellness has a variety of therapists trained in CBT that can help tailor a treatment plan specific to your needs, including sleep! You can read more about CBT for insomnia here.

 

Here are some tips you can try out at home to start improving your sleep hygiene and work towards a healthier body and mind!

  • Stick to a schedule. You’ll want to try your best to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day- even on the weekends. 
  • Create a routine around bed time. Choosing a set of calming activities you do each night before bed can help signal to your body it is almost time to go to sleep. This might look like taking  a shower, drinking a cup of tea, reading a book, etc. 
  • Avoid napping if possible.
  • Manage environmental cues. We can use light and temperature to help us sleep. This might look like dimming lights an hour or two before bed, using blackout curtains, staying off of electronics, and setting thermostats to cooler temperatures. The presence of light signals our brain that it is time to wake up, and warmer temperatures are less conducive for sleep. 
  • Exercising daily can help tire the body before bed. 
  • Avoid caffeine after 12pm and avoid exercising within 2-4 hours before bedtime. 
  • Avoid nicotine and alcohol as much as possible.
  • Only use your bed for sex and sleep. This helps strengthen the association between sleep and the bed to your brain. If you find yourself awake for more than 10-15 minutes in the middle of the night, go to a different room until you feel tired again.

 

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