Sleep: An important part of your Health
By Gregory J. Hayes, MA, LPC
May is Mental Health Awareness Month.
We asked the staff of NCMH if they might be willing to contribute some writings in an effort to help spread understanding of the role MH issues play in all of our lives. The last piece looked at stigma and misunderstanding.
Today Mr. Hayes tackles the relationship between our health and the sometimes elusive but always welcome activity known as sleep
“Sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.”-Thomas Dekker
As a mental health therapist I work with clients on many different types of mental health and emotional issues. If there is one thing that is common to many individuals who have been diagnosed with a mental illness or who have an emotional issue that they are struggling with it is their sleep.
The pattern and type of sleep that a person has a direct bearing on their mental and physical health. This is why when you see either a physical healthcare provider or a mental healthcare provider, you may get asked about your sleep.
So what is sleep? The following definition from Wikipedia describes sleep:
“Sleep is a naturally recurring state of mind and body, characterized by altered consciousness, relatively inhibited sensory activity, reduced muscle activity and inhibition of nearly all voluntary muscles during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, and reduced interactions with surroundings. It is distinguished from wakefulness by a decreased ability to react to stimuli, but more reactive than a coma or disorders of consciousness, with sleep displaying different, active brain patterns.”
What is the purpose of sleep? According to the Sleep Foundation: “Sleep powers the mind, restores the body, and fortifies virtually every system in the body.”
So, understanding what sleep is and what sleep does is important to helping an individual to maintain both their physical and mental health. Being able to get “good” sleep should be one of the goals for everyone who wants to achieve good health.
The question often asked by a client is: “How much sleep do I need?” The chart below from the Sleep Foundation provides some insight as to how much someone may need based on their age. Please note: Every individual is different and the amount of sleep one gets can vary.
The recommended sleep times are broken down into nine age groups.
Age Range Recommended Hours of Sleep
Newborn 0-3 months old 14-17 hours
Infant 4-11 months old 12-15 hours
Toddler 1-2 years old 11-14 hours
Preschool 3-5 years old 10-13 hours
School-age 6-13 years old 9-11 hours
Teen 14-17 years old 8-10 hours
Young Adult 18-25 years old 7-9 hours
Adult 26-64 years old 7-9 hours
Older Adult 65 or older 7-8 hours
The next question often asked is: “What can I do if I feel I am not getting enough sleep?”
Step one should be to contact your health provider for guidance. Do this before you use any medication, including over-the-counter or street drugs.
When you do talk with your healthcare provider, be sure to talk about your quality of your sleep. Do you wake up feeling refreshed? Do you have racing thoughts or other disturbances? Talk about what you do to prepare for sleep. If anyone has made comments about your sleep (for example: snoring, leg movement, etc), be sure to tell your healthcare provider about these.
Listed below are some non-medication sleep hygiene practices that you can try. These tips are from the Center of Disease Control.
Good sleep habits (sometimes referred to as “sleep hygiene”) can help you get a good night’s sleep.Some habits that can improve your sleep health:
Be consistent. Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning, including on the weekends
Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, relaxing, and at a comfortable temperature
Remove electronic devices, such as TVs, computers, and smartphones, from the bedroom
Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime
Get some exercise. Being physically active during the day can help you fall asleep more easily at night.
Remember, sleep is an important part of your health. A lack of good quality sleep can have an impact on your physical and mental health. If you are having difficulty with your sleep, talking with a healthcare professional is an important step in getting good sleep.