We spend approximately a third of our lives sleeping. It’s an essential part of what we do and without it, we can’t function effectively.
Sleep and health are strongly related. When we sleep it helps our brains and bodies restore – vital for maintaining good physical and mental health.
Blue Monday is the 16th January – officially the most depressing day of the year. This got me thinking about the link between mental health and sleep; common mental health problems such as anxiety and depression can often underpin sleep problems. In my experience, where this is the case, a combined approach of treating both sleep and mental health problems together is often the most effective. Unfortunately, that help isn’t currently readily available on the NHS and, generally speaking, that connection doesn’t seem to have been made within the medical profession.
As an example, in my work with families and individuals who struggle to sleep there’s a consistent theme: many people are told that they are depressed or suffering another mental health condition and that their insomnia, and consequential sleep deprivation, are symptoms of this. However, I see a lot of people who are frustrated with the medical professionals supporting them as they feel that, actually, the sleep deprivation is the cause of their mental health issues and from my experience in many cases I’m inclined to agree.
I’ve recently been working with teenagers, some of who are getting only 2 to 4 hours of sleep a night. In some cases they are being referred to CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) due to the affects their lack of sleep is having on their behaviour. These teens get quite angry, adamant that if they could sort their sleep out, then they would feel a lot better. I also suffered from insomnia in my childhood and early adult life and from working with them, they are often right. I’ve seen first-hand that as I counsel and coach them through their sleep issues and they start to sleep better, their mood improves and they feel better in themselves.
Unfortunately, it’s not just as simple as saying sleep is either a symptom or a cause of mental health issues. But there is undoubtedly a relationship between the two and they should be addressed together. As we seek to support those diagnosed with mental health conditions we often look at how we protect their emotional wellbeing, but as part of this I believe we should be looking at their sleep too. To do this we need medical professionals to be able to access the sleep training and knowledge they need to be able to better support their patients.
Hopefully in my work with Westfield Health we can help those who are suffering to get this much needed access to sleep support, and help get the message out there so that professionals can also get the training they need.
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© The Sleep Geek 2017