The importance of sleep on mental health and wellbeing

O sleep! O gentle sleep! Nature’s soft nurse

Shakespeare knew what he was talking about in Henry IV, Part 2!  A good night’s sleep is essential to our physical and mental health and general wellbeing.

One of the first questions I always ask a client is:  tell me about your sleeping routine.  A disrupted sleeping pattern is usually a clear sign that the client is experiencing emotional difficulties.  It is not always easy to determine which came first.  But the link between poor or disrupted sleep and emotional and physical difficulties is very clear.

There are two sleep states:

  1. REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement sleep)

This is when we dream.  The latest theories on sleep suggest that we need to dream in order to maintain our mental health.  Unfulfilled emotional arousal by day can be completed via the metaphors in a dream.    In a normal sleep cycle, this should take up about 25% of our 8 hours sleep.

  1. SWS (Slow Wave Sleep)

This is when the body repairs itself after a long, hard day.  It is when the immune system boosts itself.  It is when memories make their way into our long term memory store.  It should take up about 75% of our 8 hours sleep.

What we can see here is:

  1. If we are constantly aroused emotionally (because of for example anxiety and depression) we will need to dream more in order to flush out the emotional arousal.
  2. If we have to dream more, we do not get enough slow wave sleep and the body is not given the time to repair and build.
  3. Dreaming is hard work. The brain is as active while we are dreaming as when we are awake by day.  If we spend too much time dreaming, we wake up exhausted and without enough emotional energy to face the day.  We get more anxious than we should.  The smallest things appear insurmountable. The cycle continues.
  4. If we do not get enough SWS, our body is tired. We get ill more easily. We struggle to file away the important memories that make life easier to cope with.

What are the typical sleep problems?

  1. Taking a long time to get to sleep
  2. Constantly waking through the night and not being able to get back to sleep
  3. Waking up really early and not being able to get back to sleep

Sorting out our sleep pattern can be very effective in restoring and maintaining our ability to cope with what life throws at us.  Or it can be the first step in taking control of our mental health and wellbeing. Contact me if you feel you need some help restoring healthier sleeping habits.

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