Maintaining healthy sleep patterns is important for both physical and mental health. It can also improve productivity and overall quality of life. Dr. Melinda Massoff, behavioral health wants patients to understand the importance of good sleep and how it supports your mental health. Here are some frequently asked questions she answers for patients in her practice.
Question: How does poor sleep affect your body?
Answer: It is very important to get the proper amount of sleep. Adults aged 18-64 need about 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. Poor sleep has multiple impacts on our body and overall health. It can lead to weakened immunity, high blood pressure, heart disease and increased risk for obesity.
In terms of mental health, poor sleep can cause anxiety, depressed mood, irritability and moodiness. If you have these conditions already, it worsens them. As a therapist, sleep is the first thing I work on. Sometimes patients who come in for anxiety and depression are simply not getting enough sleep. When they change their sleep habits, they often report decreased anxiety and better mood.
Question: What are signs of sleep deprivation?
Answer: The major symptoms of sleep deprivation include yawning and fatigue, which can occur after even just one night of poor sleep. Fatigue can also make patients feel groggy and moody and can cause headaches and mental fog.
Sleep deprivation and fatigue sounds benign, but can actually be very dangerous. Sleep deprivation can increase a patient’s risk for motor vehicle accidents, trips, and falls. Patients who experience fatigue that is not relieved by a few nights of sufficient sleep should see a doctor to check for underlying health issues.
Question: Sometimes people have no option but to stay awake (i.e. newborn, shift work). What are some things they can do to minimize the effects of sleep deprivation?
Answer: The best advice I got as a new mom was to sleep when my baby slept. Do not worry about cleaning, doing the dishes, or other household chores. It is best to just sleep.
For shift work, it is important that you maintain a schedule and sleep when you are off (even if it is during the daytime). Consider blackout curtains so that your body is “tricked” a bit to fall asleep. The darker your room is, the better it is for you to sleep in. Darkness tells your brain to make melatonin, a hormone produced in the brain’s pineal gland. Melatonin influences sleep by sending a signal to the brain that it is time for rest.
Question: What can I do to ensure we get better, more restful sleep?
Ensuring you have enough, restful sleep is the ultimate form of “self-care”. Many people stay up a bit too late on their screens because they think that is their only “me time”. However, sleep is so important that it makes sense to figure out a different way to manage stress. If you have trouble sleeping, try taking a walk after dinner, doing yoga or any exercise during the day, and engaging in mediation/breathing/sleep story apps. You might also want to keep a “worry” log, where you write down any concerns you have on paper, rather than stewing on your thoughts all night. Reading just before bed is also more restful than watching TV. Also creating a consistent night time routine and bedtime, will help signal your body that it is time for bed.