Are you suffering from a lack of sleep? Me too. I think I have forgotten what it feels like to sleep well. I have been prompted to write this as I navigate motherhood and the sleep deprivation that comes with it. I have always been a poor sleeper but have been shocked by how my sleep has been affected since becoming a new mum and how this has impacted my overall well-being.
Maybe your lack of sleep does not have anything to do with a baby, but you are very aware of that horrible feeling; spending the night tossing and turning and then waking in the morning – tired, dizzy, and grumpy, but you have no other option but to get ready, get on with your day and try to do everything that you are supposed to do, with a smile.
Sleep and mental health are intertwined. According to Philips global sleep survey, about 62% of people have sleeping issues. Another report states that about 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders. Health experts say that people who don’t get the recommended 8 hours of sleep are more prone to mental health issues.
One of the major symptoms of depression is difficulty in falling asleep. According to a recent study, an estimate, of about 350 million people experience severe depression worldwide. A study showed that around 75% also have symptoms of insomnia. Recent research showed that people with insomnia are twice more prone to depression than those who get proper sleep.
Anxiety and panic attacks are more common in people who have trouble sleeping. The impact of lack of sleep on mental health is cyclical. For example, someone with a bad case of insomnia has trouble falling asleep at night and then wakes up in the middle of the night worrying about how they can get through their workday with very little sleep.
This worry can make them anxious about getting enough sleep, making it harder for them to fall asleep at night. This cycle continues until they finally break down in tears over how exhausted they feel from lack of sleep and stress caused by anxiety over not getting enough rest.
Anxiety also causes physical symptoms like sweating and racing heartbeats which can interfere with your ability to get restful sleep, the cycle continues.
The relationship between stress and sleep is a two-way street. Stress can cause poor sleep, but poor sleep can also lead to stress. Both situations are bad for your health.
Stress disrupts sleep by causing physical changes in the body that prevent good quality rest. The body releases cortisol when stressed out, making it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep. Lack of sleep also causes stress by increasing your risk of developing health problems such as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, all of which can be linked to chronic stress over time.
Your body needs sleep
Sleep is essential for good health. Sleep is a basic human need; our bodies must repair and recover from the day’s activities. Without adequate sleep, we can negatively affect our overall health and functioning.
Sleep is a biological necessity; without it, we cannot survive. It is critical to your recovery after any physical stressor or activity (like exercise). Sleep restores your immune system so that you will be ready to fight off illness when you are awake and helps prevent illnesses from taking hold if they do happen.
Sleep is a crucial part of mental health. When you do not get enough sleep, your brain cannot function properly, and it is harder for you to cope with daily tasks or manage emotions. Sleep deprivation has also been linked to anxiety disorders, depression and stress.
Tips on how to improve your sleep
- Make a sleeping routine and try to go to bed early.
- Go to sleep at the same time each night.
- Avoid taking a nap after 4pm.
- Avoid caffeine in the evenings.
- Try to exercise daily but no later than 3 hours before bedtime.
- Stay off your phone – the blue light interferes with melatonin which helps to make you drowsy.
- Avoid heavy meals close to bedtime.
- Make your bedroom dark and comfortable.
If you are a mum struggling with lack of sleep, implementing strategies like the ones above is a little bit harder. It is normal to feel overwhelmed by lack of sleep and the enormous demands of motherhood. If family members or friends offer to help, jump at the chance and allow yourself some rest. Work out a schedule with your partner if you can. Let the laundry wait and use nap times to get some sleep too.
A healthy diet can help boost your energy levels and manage your moods if they are low. A balanced diet will contain all the nutrients your body needs – protein, fibre, vitamins, and minerals (such as iron); try to prepare snacks so you do not forget to eat.
Although you might be feeling exhausted, try to get outside for a while every day, the daylight and fresh air can also help the baby sleep at night. Most of all, know that it will not last forever and you are not alone.
Joanne Docherty has been working with and for families since 2006, and is the founder of Starra Education. She also teaches at the University of Glasgow.
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