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The Importance of Sleep

So this is not ground breaking information, but getting enough quality sleep is so important.

The Importance of Sleep

We all know this but how many people really prioritize it?

When a client comes in who is depressed, anxious, stressed, emotionally eating or drinking I always ask about their sleep. It truly is foundational for our mental, emotional and physical health.

I decided to write my March blog about the importance of sleep because of a statistic that I heard. The number of heart attacks that occur after Daylight saving increases by 24%! That completely blew my mind. I have always been a fan of sleep and love a good nap, but I was shocked by this statistic.

It also works in the reverse, in the fall when we gain an hour of sleep, the rate of heart attacks drops by 24%. If that alone doesn’t show the significance of sleep, I don’t know what would. A heart attack is not an insignificant or minor event and we are only talking about one hour of sleep.

The fact that less sleep can impact the body in such a potentially life threatening way is something we need to pay attention to. I’m not trying to cause wide spread panic about heart attacks, but want to make a point of how necessary sleep is to our health.  There is a long list of problems that can arise from lack of sleep, I’m not going to list them all but I would like to focus on some of the ways it can affect your mental health.

Getting proper rest is vital for mood management.

Whether you’re depressed, anxious or irritable it is important to make sure you’re getting not only enough sleep, but good quality sleep. The recommended amount is between seven and nine hours per night. Without proper sleep, a negative mindset, anxiety and depressed feelings can increase. Your appetite and satiety can also be affected by lack of sleep, and food choices and eating too little or too much will also impact your mood and mindset. Our base needs of sleep, water and proper nutrition too often are not prioritized and can have serious detrimental effects on our mood and outlook.

When my daughter was a newborn and even a half night’s sleep was a pipe dream, I remember how out of sorts and irritable I felt. My reflexes and responses felt slowed, I felt like I was trudging through sludge in my brain trying to put a sentence together. I actually remember saying to friends and family that I now understand how and why sleep deprivation is a form of torture.

There’s one story that’s funny now, my husband would stay up to try to do the midnight feeding for our daughter so I could get some sleep. But after a little while of doing this, the sleep deprivation was taking a toll on him. One evening he walked down stairs, looking exhausted, dejected and even a little confused he said “I just gave the cat a q-tip”. It took me a minute, then I realized he went to give the cat a treat and her treat container was on the dresser next to the q-tips. He didn’t even realize what he’d done until the cat looked at the q-tip, looked up at him as if to say “what the hell?”.

So I immediately told him to just go to bed, he couldn’t function like that.

I’m sure most new parents have similar stories, thankfully the newborn phase is a heightened time that is usually temporary. But its another example of how lack of sleep can affect our brains.

In today’s world, there are so many distractions and reasons for poor and/or not enough sleep.

The nature of our busy lives, especially for parents and working parents. Technology has also had a huge impact on the quality of our sleep. I’ve also heard many times from clients and friends, how difficult it is to prioritize sleep when it’s finally “me” time late at night. The house is quiet, everybody is asleep and you can finally have the remote or choose what’s on Netflix. It can be really hard to give up that alone time to get more sleep. I think it’s about weighing your priorities.

If you feel sluggish often during the day, rely heavily on caffeine to function, feel irritable frequently, then maybe sleep needs to win out over staying up. I’m also a big proponent of baby steps. I’m not suggesting you have to go to sleep at 9pm but instead try to get to sleep fifteen minutes earlier, then maybe another fifteen minutes.

Other things you can do to improve your quality of sleep is to invest in black out shades and curtains and keep no cell phones, iPads or computers in your bedroom. The darker the room and the less distractions there are will help to retrain you to just sleep. Also be aware of your caffeine and alcohol consumption, both can impact your ability to fall asleep and/or getting good quality sleep.

If you’ve been functioning on less than adequate sleep for a while, don’t expect immediate results.

Think of it as sleep training for yourself, just as we do for babies and toddlers. It will take time for your body and mind to adjust to a new routine but in time, the results will be worth it. Also, upon waking, try to give yourself some time before checking your phone or computer.

How you start your day can have an impact on how you feel throughout the day.

Even just taking a couple of minutes to take a few deep breaths and mindfully plan and prepare for your day can help you stay more present and less scattered.

If you or a loved one could you some help making changes for healthier habits, please feel free to reach out to me, I’d love to help. Now go get some sleep!

Kathy Most
Therapist in Westfield, NJ
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