Adequate Sleep & Mental Health

“I’m too busy for sleep!” How many times have a heard a colleague, friend or student at the college I work at tell me that.  Students I work with often say they need to pull all-nighters before exams.  I argue that the best studying you can do is to get at least 6 hours of sleep before an exam.  The same rings true for working people who try to cut back on sleep just to get everything done on any given day. Our lives are very busy.  This is an understatement.  Juggling relationships, work, school, professional development, fitness, aging parents, children of different ages with differing needs, meals, – it seems that there certainly are not enough hours in the day.  And where does leisure fit into all this?  Where do we fit in self-care?  One of the sacrifices we make with our busy lives, lives that are more rushed by the constant contact of the cell phone, is sleep. A person with sleep deprivation is more prone to accidents (including automobile), impaired judgment and is likely to make bad decisions throughout the day.  Some of the effects of sleep deprivation are similar to being intoxicated.  Other effects of sleep deprivation include:

  1.       Reduced alertness
  2.       Short attention span
  3.       Slower reaction time – often happens when driving
  4.       Reduced decision-making skills
  5.       Poor memory
  6.       Mental stalling – fixating on one thought
  7.       Lack of motivation
  8.       Microsleep – sleeping for a few seconds or minutes or longer but not voluntarily


How do you know if you are sleep deprived?

  • If you wake up in the morning and you are still tired
  • Constant yawning
  • Dozing off during the day
  • Poor concentration
  • Mood swings

If you are dealing with a mental health condition (i.e. depression or anxiety for example), then lack of sleep can often make the condition worse.  Unfortunately, insomnia is often a feature of depression or anxiety conditions.  A lack of sleep can also affect your immune system and make you more likely to get sick, for example with a cold or influenza.

Sleep Hygiene Strategies:

  1. Sleep only when sleepy
  2. If you go to bed and are not asleep in 20 minutes, get up and do some pleasure reading
  3. Keep the lighting low so as not to wake up your brain
  4. Don’t take naps – This will ensure you are tired at bedtime
  5. If you must nap, do it for 1 hour only and before 3 pm
  6. Same time to bed and up in morning,  every day, including weekends
  7. Exercise
  8. Do not exercise at least 4 hours before bedtime
  9. Listen to relaxing music before bed
  10. Do some pleasure reading before bed
  11. Do relaxation exercises
  12. Make sure your bedroom is quiet and comfortable
  13. The room should not be too hot – we sleep better in a cooler room
  14. Ensure adequate shades on the windows
  15. If noise bothers you, try earplugs or a fan for white noise
  16. Avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine at least 4-6 hours before bedtime
  17. Use your bed only for sleeping and sexual activity
  18. Do not read in bed, watch TV or study in bed
  19. Have a light snack before bed – You don’t want to be too full – You also don’t want to be hungry
  20. Take a warm bath or shower 90 minutes before bedtime
  21. This should not be a vigorous cleaning ritual
  22. Enjoy the soak or let the shower just run over your body…..neck, shoulders and head….feel the relaxation setting in…..

Sleep is vastly important to our physical health and mental health.  Some people have a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome.   You should consult a doctor about these and other sleep disorders.  Sometimes you need a referral to a sleep disorders clinic for assessment and testing.

Aim for a good 8 hours of sleep every night…….your body, mind and soul will thank you!!

Dave Neary can be reached at 613-453-9330 or or