This month (October) is Mental Health Month in NSW. This week (October 9-15) is National Mental Health Week. Today, October 10, is World Mental Health Day - a day to join together as a local and global community to put a spotlight on mental health and mental illness.
In Australia, we are asked on October 10 each year to reflect on our own mental health and wellbeing and make a personal promise. To identify something we can focus on that will make a difference to our own mental health and wellbeing and put that promise into action.
It can be so easy for us to take our mental health for granted; to prioritise other things; to put it off until next week. But the reality is, that mental health is important to each and everyone one of us and it is not something that any of us should take for granted.
I get many opportunities to talk to people about mental health and wellbeing, but like everyone else, there are things I struggle with from time to time. When I talk to communities about things each of us can do to improve our mental health, my first tip is usually about the importance of sleep.
But getting regular quality sleep is the one thing that I have struggled with for a long time. Sleep affects our physical and mental health, but can be the first thing we trade in when we get busy or stressed. And I seem to trade it in too often.
We would all be mistaken to think that sleep is not important. We seem to live in a society where “busy” is worn as a badge of honour and where a good night’s sleep is a luxury. But sleep is not a luxury. In fact, it may be one of the most important things we can do for our overall health and mental health.
During sleep, many essential activities occur including cellular repair, toxin clearance, memory consolidation and information processing by the brain. We also know from research that disrupted sleep can have a major impact on emotion, cognition and physical health.
So, if you are like me and struggle with sleep, here are some tips for you and I to follow:
- Develop a regular sleep routine. Try to go to bed at the same time every evening and get up at the same time every morning.
- Create an environment where bed is for sleeping. Your mind needs to be in the habit of knowing that if you are in bed, you are there to sleep. So no TV and no devices in the bedroom and don’t stay in bed if you are wide awake.
- Wind down and relax before going to bed. Create an environment for sleep by turning off lights, turning off all devices (apparently the blue light suppresses the sleep hormone!) and try to relax well before going to bed. You may also want to find a relaxation technique that works for you. For me, I am going to practice mindfulness by using the Smiling Mind App.
- Make sure your bedroom is comfortable. You should have a quiet, cool, dark room with comfortable bedding. You can try earplugs or block out blinds if sounds or light tends to wake you.
- Don’t force yourself to sleep if you can’t. This will only make you feel more anxious. If you’re finding it difficult to sleep, get up, go to another room and try to relax there. Do something soothing, such as listening to music, until you're tired enough to go back to bed. If you are awake for long periods, repeat this process as many times as you need to.
- Eat a healthy diet and get some exercise. What you eat and drink can affect how well you sleep. Be careful about using stimulants like alcohol, caffeine and nicotine, particularly in the evening. Large meals late in the evening should also be avoided. Doing regular exercise can also help you sleep, as it makes you more physically tired – but needs to be avoided close to your regular bedtime.
- Catch up on missed sleep, but avoid long daytime naps. If you have missed out on a lot of sleep, or you are not sleeping at all, you may find you need to catch up. For example, you may want to sleep an hour or two more at weekends, or have short naps during the day. However, it’s important to try not to sleep too much during the day as this may change your sleep routine. Naps should only be 30-40 minutes.
- Don’t lie awake watching the clock. Watching the time on a clock just makes you anxious about not being asleep. If possible take the clock out of your bedroom. If you need the clock for the alarm, turn it around so that you cannot see the time.
- Talk to a professional if you need help. If you are still having trouble sleeping, if you have persistent problems with mood, restlessness in bed, severe snoring or wakening unrefreshed despite what should be adequate length sleep, make sure that you go and see your doctor.
So what mental health promise will you make to yourself today? You can make your own promise and share it with others at www.1010.org.au