In this fast-paced western society we are constantly connected and available 247, we have information flowing into us on a daily basis and there’s an increasing expectation for us to respond instantly. Given all of this, there a growing need for us to be operating or functioning in terms of our mental health not just at ‘normal’ or ‘acceptable’ levels, but ‘optimal’ levels.
Optimal means we are functioning at the highest levels mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually, such that we’re able to cope well with the demands of life. If we are operating at sub-optimal level, it’s much harder for us to perform even the basic of life’s functions.
So how do we ensure our health and wellbeing levels are what they should be?
One key contributory factor for long-term mental health and wellness is to ensure we have 7-9 hours of good quality sleep per night.
Sleep repairs the body. This has a positive knock-on effect to how you function cognitively the next and following days. When we sleep, we sleep in cycles of 60-90 minutes. During that time we oscillate between deep (so-called delta) sleep where the body repairs itself and the lighter REM sleep.
REM (rapid-eye-movement) sleep, or lighter sleep, moves information from your short-term memory to your long-term memory. This helps you to better recall information you absorb on a daily basis. It is during this REM phase of sleep that your eyes move rapidly from side to side (hence the name) and that you dream.
Getting to bed at the right time (ideally 10pm) and getting the right amount of sleep every night keeps your circadian rhythm in check. Your circadian rhythm is your natural body clock that gives you signals when it’s time for you to sleep and when it’s time for you to wake up. Working shift patterns (especially night shifts) can knock this out of balance which can have major consequences not only for your mental and physical health but also for your gut health.
Lack of good quality sleep means that instead of being fully awake and energised during the day, you may find yourself sleepy, sluggish and unable to focus for any significant length of time. In addition, when you’re in bed at night you may feel ‘tired and wired’ (meaning your body is physically tired, but your mind is wide awake and you’re therefore unable to sleep).
Melatonin, the hormone that prepares your body for sleep, and serotonin (your awake hormone) need to be in balance for you to function at your best in the day. This means melatonin kicks in naturally from around 9pm (to help you sleep) until about 7am when serotonin is released to take you through the day. When this melatonin, serotonin cycle is in balance you are fully awake during the day and sleepy at night (when you should be). This in turn means you get a better night’s sleep.
So never underestimate the power of sleep if you value your health and wellbeing. Good quality sleep not only helps us function more effectively, it also boosts our immune system, helping us to stave off viruses and other infections that we would more easily catch with an inferior level and quality of sleep.
Sleep is therefore one of the fundamental pillars of amazing health and wellbeing. Without it we may over time find ourselves not only operating under par but opening ourselves up to chronic exhaustive conditions such as ME, chronic fatigue syndrome, or fibromyalgia. These conditions can be debilitating and could, if not kept in check, leave us either bed bound or wheelchair bound.
So a key way to look after your mental health over the long term is to ensure that you not only get your 7-9 hours but that you ensure that you go to bed at the right time to increase your chances of getting a much better night’s sleep.