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How to Improve your Mental Health in your Sleep

Updated: Aug 2, 2022

Technically, this article should be titled "How to Improve your Mental Health Via your Sleep." Sleep is tremendously important to the functioning of the brain. Research has regularly indicated that getting too little sleep can have harmful effects on the functioning of both our heart and brain. More specifically, sleep has protective effects from the risk of depression, heart disease, and Alzheimer's.

But, sleep can also improve our mind's functioning on a day-to-day basis. For starters, our amygdala can be affected by sleep deprivation after just one night of poor sleep (as indicated by brain imaging studies). The amygdala is responsible for neural processing of stimuli. In more plain terms, we may perceive the world as more threatening after a poor night’s sleep than when well rested.

Our memory and focus can also suffer from a poor night’s sleep. We often forget the function of a good night’s sleep: long-term memory consolidation. There are numerous reasons to avoid waiting until the last minute to cram for a test or prepare for a work presentation (i.e., stress, anxiety, competing priorities). However, studies have indicated our abilities to retrieve learned information are enhanced in our sleep. Similarly, we are unable to transfer information from our short-term memory to our long-term memory (as adeptly) unless the brain receives adequate sleep. Our focus also suffers from poor sleep to the extent that we are less adept at responding to changes in our environment when awake. You may have experienced this when you are repeatedly required to return to a task that you just can’t seem to complete.

Getting adequate sleep also affects our physiological experience in the day-to-day. Athletes, especially those regularly relying on their bodies to perform at peak efficiency, can improve their cardiovascular health via enabling the heart to rest during sleep. Illness prevention is also enhanced when the body achieves sufficient sleep.

While the benefits of sleep are plentiful and this article could go on ad nauseam listing each and every reason to improve our sleep, the obstacles in our way remain. Working with a therapist may not be your first idea when hoping to improve your sleep. But, therapy can assist you in improving your sleep via just a few empirically-supported interventions. At the outset of treatment, you’ll be asked to establish a helpful bedtime routine. This includes slowly winding down in the hours leading up to bedtime. This will ask you to not only avoid blue light (i.e., cell phones/televisions/computers), but also to avoid rigorous exercise prior to bedtime and bothersome stimuli in the bed; unfortunately, this may mean your dog/cat returns to their bed on the floor. The time you spend in bed can also be tailored to reduce sleeplessness upon entering bed and to improve sleep efficiency. This is done via finding your optimal “time spent in bed” and a consistent wake time for you. If you are interested in seeking clinically-effective methods to improve your sleep or other aspects of your life, contact Roswell Psychology today for a free consultation.

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