Tips for sleeping well: stress and trauma can have a huge negative impact on sleep

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Since my previous and first piece written for Mad In Ireland last year, I bit the bullet and resigned from 12+ years working as a Mental Health Nurse in the public health service. It was something that I had wanted to do for a while, and it’s the best decision I’ve ever made. It’s always difficult to leave a permanent, pensionable job but I knew it just wasn’t where I wanted to be anymore.

Since stepping foot in my training in the health service in 2005, I always felt that the system was very wrong. I could see people in distress and not really being listened to and cared for in the right way.

There’s too much focus on diagnosis and medication and I believe in a more holistic approach to healing mental distress as well as physical health issues. I understand that there’s some people that find comfort in receiving a diagnosis from a psychiatrist as they believe that this explains their distressing experiences but in my opinion and a lot of others, these diagnoses and the drugs that are prescribed are doing more harm than good. I do believe, in some circumstances, short term medication can have it’s benefits but it’s not a long term solution.

Today, I’m going to talk about sleep because it’s a massive factor in mental health that I feel isn’t discussed enough. 

We are taught from a young age about the importance of a healthy balanced diet, keeping hydrated and exercise but we weren’t really educated about the importance of sleep (hopefully that’s changed nowadays in schools). 

A lot of people are unaware of the massive negative impact that sleep deprivation can have on our body and mind.

To put it simply, while we are sleeping, our whole body is working, repairing and recharging. The brain is storing away all of the information and memories from the day. There’s so much going on as we sleep that we’re not even aware of. Sleep affects almost every type of tissue and system in the body– from our organs to metabolism, immune function, mood, and disease resistance. Research shows that a chronic lack of sleep, or poor quality sleep, increases the risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, mental health problems, dementia and obesity.

Good quality sleep and getting enough of it at the right times is as essential to survival as food and water. Without sleep, we can’t form or maintain the pathways in our brain that let us learn and create new memories, and it’s harder to concentrate and respond quickly. Recent findings suggest that sleep plays a vital role in removing toxins in our brain and body that build up while we are awake.

If anyone didn’t sleep for a certain period of time, they would go insane. Often, stress and trauma can have a huge negative impact on sleep, causing sleep deprivation which can then affect our emotional well-being. This can cause irritability, irrational thinking, feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, hallucinations, delusional beliefs and so on.

If a person goes to a general medical practitioner with these symptoms, there’s a very high chance that they’d be diagnosed with a “mental illness” such as depression, bipolar disorder or one of the other 100s of diagnosis. This often then leads to prescriptions of drugs and maybe a referral to a psychiatrist or hospital admission. It’s so important to try to get to the root cause of physical and mental health problems. Masking these symptoms with medication may help temporarily, but it’s not going to fix the cause. 


| Tips for Better Sleep |

Sleep problems are quite common and usually improve within a few weeks. Try not to worry if your sleep is disturbed for a short time. Getting into a good sleep pattern can take time, but small changes can make a big difference. The recommended sleep amount is 7-9 hours. This isn’t always possible due to different circumstances such as having a baby, shift work, life events, stress, health conditions etc. Here’s some tips that will hopefully help you improve your sleep routine and get better quality sleep.

• Routine – it’s recommended to go to sleep at the same time each night and wake up at the same time every day, even at weekends as having a lie in can disrupt this pattern. Try to avoid napping during the day unless necessary.

• Stimulants – Avoid or cut down on substances that affect sleep, such as nicotine, alcohol and caffeine. Nicotine is a stimulant. Research shows that people who smoke take longer to fall asleep, and their sleep is more disrupted. Alcohol may help to fall asleep, but it affects sleep quality. Caffeine can make it more difficult to fall asleep and also affects sleep quality.

• Relax before bed – create a wind down routine that works for you. Put the phone/computer screens away at least an hour before bedtime. Most of us are in the habit of being on our phones while in bed, which can affect the body clock. Do some gentle stretches to relax the muscles or have a bath. Listen to some relaxing sounds, music, a guided meditation, an audio book or a podcast. Try to do some deep breathing exercises, i’d recommend the Wim Hoff Method. Journalling can help to release any tension and help with stress. Getting into the habit of writing down things that you’re grateful for from that day can have a positive impact on mental health. Having a to-do list for the next day can help to calm the mind and give you a sense of satisfaction and achievement when ticking them off. 

• Create a peaceful and relaxing environment- make sure that your bed is comfortable and that the room isn’t too hot or too cold. Use earplugs if any noise disrupts your sleep. Ensure your bedroom is dark and use an eye mask if you need to, especially if the early morning brightness wakes you up too early. Keep pets out of the bedroom if they disturb your sleep. Use lavender oil or spray on your pillow or keep a lavender plant in your bedroom, which can help with relaxation.

• Get up if you can’t sleep- if you wake up and are really struggling to fall back asleep, get up and do something that you find relaxing but keep the light levels low. When you feel sleepy again, go back to bed. Avoid continuously checking the time as this can cause stress and make it harder to sleep.

• Keep active- regular movement/exercise daily has been proven to improve sleep quality. It’s recommended to do at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 days per week. Avoid exercise an hour before going to bed, as this can make it more difficult to fall asleep.

• Keep a sleep diary- a sleep diary can help you figure out the cause of any sleep problems. Write down the times you sleep, how long it takes you to fall asleep, how many times you wake up during the night, if and when you feel tired during the day, your caffeine/alcohol/nicotine intake, exercise amount and if you took any medication.

• Keep a record of your dietary/fluid intake and bowel movements. Dehydration and constipation can affect our sleep as well as drinking too much liquid. Health experts advise against eating a large meal near bedtime. Consuming a large meal so close to sleeping can affect digestion and sleep quality. Research shows that having a light, healthy snack before bedtime can provide sleep benefits such as falling asleep faster or staying asleep longer. Certain foods such as kiwi and nuts contain antioxidants, melatonin, and tryptophan, which experts suggest, can improve sleep.

I hope this helps and if there’s anything else that helps you to get good quality sleep that I haven’t mentioned, please share in the comments below. 

I’m currently studying to be a Holistic Life Coach and Mind-Body Practitioner and have set up Holistic Health Ireland on social media platforms where I share my own personal and professional views and give support, hope, inspiration, health tips and guidance. I also set it up to bring holistic health practitioners in Ireland together in one resource hub. Feel free to follow along, and please help spread the word. 

4 COMMENTS

  1. Great article! I would love to be able to sleep 7 to 9 hours straight at night, as when I was younger. My days are more full of energy when I sleep well at night. I wake up a lot at night. These tip are very helpful. I am going to implement some of them into my routine. Thanks for writing about this!

  2. Great article! I sometimes try to do some very basic mindfullness focusing on my body from my toes all the way up to my head. This helps to clear my mind and drift off to sleep

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