Sleep and Your Mental Health

Sleep and Your Mental Health

by Amy Neiman, LMSW 

With four pre-teens and teenagers under one roof, our family has some interesting discussions. Due to the pandemic, they have been hanging out at home even more for over a year. Our discussions range in topics from detailed explanations of Minecraft worlds to college essays and current events. Throw in a quote from a sitcom and a sarcastic response or two, and you have our dinner table.

Lately, I have been sharing facts and tidbits from Matthew Walker’s book Why We Sleep. I first encountered this neuroscientist in a MasterClass video, and I was hooked. I have always been an advocate for sleep. From helping my babies learn to self-soothe to setting nap timers and regimented bedtimes, I was unbending when it came to sleep. Even now that my children are older, I continue to push them toward appropriate bedtimes. Maybe that is because I want to be snuggled up in my own bed at an appropriate time. What I learned over the years is that my children’s sleep didn’t just give me time to get things done; it was also very important to their mental and physical health. And good sleep isn’t just for kids!

Sleep is considered as important to our bodies as the food we eat and the air we breathe. Poor sleep can lead to physical health problems and a rise in mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Better sleep has also been shown to improve problem-solving processes.

I would encourage you to search out Dr. Walker’s book or look online for his very interesting TED Talk. To begin your journey into finding better sleep, here are a couple of takeaways:  

-Getting into the Routine – Try to go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning. This helps your body regulate its circadian rhythm, leading to better sleep.

A Clean Slate – Our sleep patterns change as we age, but the importance of sleep does not. Our bodies actually cleanse our brains each night. Our glymphatic system (look that word up – it is really cool!) helps clean out the plaque and proteins that have built up during the day. This process happens when we sleep! The buildup of certain plaque and proteins have been linked to dementia. So again, sleep is important.

A Mental Health Booster – Rates of stress, anxiety and depression are higher for those who get less sleep. One of Dr. Walker’s studies shows how a lack of sleep severs the connection between the prefrontal cortex (the main brain decision-maker) and the amygdala (the emotion center). Thus, a lack of sleep can lead to stronger and more impulsive reactions and emotions.

 For many of us, the pandemic has been a period of stress and anxiety, and many people are feeling emotionally frayed. This is an excellent time to take a look at your sleep schedule and see if there are ways you could improve it. Your brain, and your mental health, will thank you.

 The Licensed Social Workers of CJFS provide confidential professional counseling for individuals and families of all ages. CJFS Counseling is available in person, on the phone or via video platforms such as Zoom and FaceTime, and most insurance are accepted. To learn more, contact Clinical Director Marcy Morgenbesser, marcy@cjfsbham.org or 205.879.3438.