Mental Health Maintenance: You Can Do It In Your Sleep

Mental Health Maintenance: You Can Do It In Your Sleep

Sleep and mental health have a lot in common: they both impact, and are impacted by, every other aspect of our lives. When we have a healthy mind, we’re better equipped to enjoy the moments that matter and navigate life’s challenges. It’s the same when we’re getting consistently good sleep. 

If your mental health is suffering, it’s likely that your sleep could suffer too. But if your sleep is suffering, it’s very difficult to keep your mental health in check: your brain simply doesn’t have enough resources to do the job. 

So, do mental health challenges lead to poor sleep, or does poor sleep lead to more mental health challenges? It’s the sort of chicken-and-egg predicament where you just want someone to tell you where to start. 

We can help untangle that (and the science agrees, for you fact-checkers out there): Make improving your sleep a priority, and your mental health will follow. 

How quality sleep supports your mental health

Everybody’s sleep needs are different, but the human brain needs at least 7 hours to get the job done. Sleep experts recommend 7 to 9 hours, which is where we get the “8 hour average” from. 

It’s during this grave shift that our brains perform necessary housekeeping: clearing away the clutter of the last day to make room for the next. If the clutter isn’t adequately cleared, well, you can imagine how much more difficult it will be to achieve optimal function the following day. 

So when we prioritise sleep, we’re prioritising the mechanisms that our whole experience of life is built on. 

Speaking of housekeeping…

Let’s try an analogy. Everyone’s favourite chore: the dishes. If you stay on top of them, you’ll always have a nice clear bench to prepare your meals. 

If you don’t stay on top of them—sure, you can still prepare a meal, but you’re likely to be missing utensils, running out of pots, and manoeuvring around a cluttered space. So it’s going to take longer, and it’ll be less pleasant.  

That’s your brain without adequate sleep: manoeuvring around the clutter but still trying to achieve the same outcomes that a rested brain would. 

It follows that our moods, as well as our general outlook, are going to be much more on the sunny side if we give our brains enough time overnight to do the job.

The Sleep Matrix

If you go from getting 6 hours of sleep per night to getting 8, you’re likely to notice a few changes. 

We’re calling it the sleep matrix because it shows just how many areas of our daily lives and our health that good (and poor) sleep can impact. If there was a pill that gave you all of the benefits of a good night’s sleep, we’d all think of that as some kind of miracle pill. But we already have the miracle, and it’s actually a factory setting: sleep.

Good quality sleep is associated with so many aspects of our well-being, including:

  • Good heart health
  • Better memory 
  • Maintaining a healthy weight and appetite
  • Positive emotional processing
  • Fewer cravings
  • Lower stress levels
  • A stronger immune system
  • Improved mood
  • Blood sugar regulation
  • Greater athletic performance

Why is this relevant to mental health? Because all of these things impact the way we experience our days. The other side of this sleep coin might look like heading into your day stressed, maybe with some kind of sniffle, craving sweets and salt, with a low mood and building fatigue. 

If you compare that with the outcomes of quality sleep (good mood, higher energy, better memory and focus, among many other things), you could imagine which version of yourself is going to have a more satisfying day, be more content with what was achieved, and end the day in a better frame of mind. 

So while there are some direct impacts of good sleep on the mind (like improved mood), many of sleep’s other benefits can improve mental health indirectly. If you have the energy to get through your day, keep up with the housework and other commitments, and maintain a healthy social life then you’re a good part of the way there.     

How to use sleep to improve your mental health

At this point you won’t be surprised to learn that the most basic things you need to do in order to achieve quality sleep are also things that are likely to move the needle on your mental health. 

What are these “things”? They’re the same things that crop up with just about anything you’re aiming to achieve: better productivity, more energy, maintaining a healthy weight. These things are: 

  • Eating nutrient dense, high quality food
  • Moving your body, exercising, and stretching
  • Resting your mind (meditation, looking out the window, or walking in nature, for example).

Generally, it’s about taking good care of yourself. And here’s the kicker: if you’ve given your body and brain enough of that sleepy good stuff, then it makes maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and keeping your stress levels low a lot easier. 

It’s pretty incredible how making sleep your #1 priority leads to healthier habits more generally: you need to eat well to sleep well, for example. 

So just like keeping a tidy kitchen leads to a better cooking experience, getting enough quality sleep leads to a better quality of life overall: Better physical health, better daily performance, and better mental health to top it off! 

If you’re going through a difficult time or need support, sleep can help but it’s not your only option. Here’s a directory of free mental health services and resources available in New Zealand.

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