My very first experience with mental health occurred during my sophomore year in college. I found myself experiencing acute anxiety and insomnia after having a routine surgery to remove my wisdom teeth. I started the semester completely sleep-deprived, a nervous wreck, and at a loss for what to do to get some help.
Naturally, I logged onto WebMD and scared the bejeezus out of myself with symptoms and potential outcomes of a lack of sleep. My lungs would eventually collapse, and with one more night of zero shut-eye, I would literally die. Please note that since 2007, the insomnia page has greatly improved and is much less frightening in tone.
Anyway, I was offered Xanax by the school nurse. Had I known how much better I would feel, I would have jumped on the prescription (and naturally taken the pills as prescribed). But, my head said no: this must mean I am crazy.
I simply couldn’t shake the feeling that taking Xanax, or any psychotropic medication for that matter, was absurd; I was a bright, capable, stable (mostly) young woman. So I went to the local university hospital and was prescribed Ambien. One pill did the trick, and I slept through the night. I was screened for an Anxiety Study, but was not selected. Phew, I thought, I’m mentally clear. HAHA.LOL.
If only my past self could prepare for the struggles I would have to eventually overcome, and the challenges life would present. I would take the Xanax and run.
In all seriousness, this started the journey towards recognizing the importance of sleep hygiene to my mental wellbeing. Here’s why Zzz’s help:
REM.SLEEP. Rapid Eye Movement (REM) is a part of the nightly sleep cycle that is vital to your mental refresh. It has been proven to improve memory and emotional health. Are you frequently waking up throughout the night? You might not be getting the REM deep sleep you need — and if you have a mental illness, your psychiatric symptoms could become exacerbated.
Recommendation: Talk to your clinician first and foremost. Keep informed on your sleep patterns with a sleep app or an OLD.SCHOOL sleep journal. This way you have an idea of what to mention to your healthcare provider.
DREAM.ON. Another important, but very mysterious, factor of importance to your sleep cycle are dreams. I’m going to go all supernatural on you for a minute. There are theories older than Freud and Jung on what happens when we dream, whether they are random memories or psychic visions or whatever you may believe. The bottom line is that dreams occur in that deep REM sleep, leaving us well-rested.
Recommendation: Not all dreams are good, like those RLY.COOL ones where you feel like you’re flying. Many of us with PTSD can have recurring nightmares that take us back to a troublesome event, catalyzing anxiety, depression, or other mood changes. Something that has helped me with uncomfortable dreams is meditation before bed. It can help relax you and prepare for deep sleep. It can also clear your head and make your dreams, if any are remembered, much more pleasurable.
ROUTINE. Lastly, get yourself into a sleep routine that fits your busy life. Going to bed and waking up at the same time everyday can do wonders for your mental health. Sometimes, it may improve your medication effectiveness, especially if it helps you take them at a regular hour of the day.
Recommendation: Set sleep alarms. Just as you would do for waking up, set a gentle reminder to go to bed at a usual time. When I began noticing my SLEEP.HYGIENE deteriorate, I simply tracked my sleep through my iPhone. The app got me back on track, and my mood improved.
And there you have it. WHY.I and those crazy NEURO.PUNKS recommend you count those sheep and drift into deep slumber. Happy sleeping.
For more on how sleep relates to mental health, check out this Harvard health letter on the subject.
When we prioritize our well-being, everything else in our life gets better, including our products, including our performance at work, including our success. — Arianna Huffington