Bludgeon stress, anxiety, and depression to death - the easy way.
One safe assumption to make is that we all want to be happy. Unfortunately, life's situations can sometimes contribute to unhappiness; stress, anxiety, and depression are all hijackers of happiness, but there is one very simple way to beat the hell out of all three of these terrorists at once.
Consistent prioritized sleep helps us live longer, healthier, happier, and more fulfilling and successful lives. It's that simple.
One of the very first questions asked in any acute psychiatry facility for an individual who is struggling with a mental health crisis is this - "How are you sleeping?". Monitoring and regulating sleep is the first defence against mental health issues, and in many cases, also the most effective.
Studies have shown that a healthy sleep increases our cognitive capacity, and regulates our mood, weight, immune, and circulatory systems. It also fights inflammation and strengthens our heart and blood vessels. A lack of consistent restful sleep has been associated with Alzheimer's, dementia, and heart disease. People who get less than seven hours of sleep per night are at an increased risk of heart attack and stroke - So I'll say it again, the fact is this - if you prioritize sleep, you will live a longer, healthier, happier life.
Upon hearing this people often complain that more sleep isn't possible. That their lives are too busy with work, family, friends, and various responsibilities, and sleep can't possibly be prioritized when there is so much to do. Many people also complain that sleeping more will take away any free time that they might have otherwise had. Usually this is time spent late at night watching television or going online. A "time to wind down", so to speak.
Just chill, we're seeking happiness and enlightenment here.
Wind down time is fine, but nobody needs hours to truly wind down, and we wouldn't need so much winding down if we weren't so wound up in the first place. Increased restful sleep immediately levels up our enlightenment, our understanding, our patience, our inner peace and happiness. Those who prioritize and implement a non- negotiable and consistent sleep schedule can achieve these somewhat elusive attributes almost immediately - without therapy, and without medication. Sleep is truly nature's natural way of arming us with a Spartan-esque shield against stress, anxiety, and depression, and a monk-like ability to enjoy the little things. It accomplishes this through regulating the production of cortisol, the stress hormone, as well as regulating the production of dopamine and oxytocin, which are the happiness, calm, and contentment neurotransmitters.
So without further adieu, here are five ways to achieve a better nights sleep, and by extension, physical and mental health.
1. Go to bed and wake up at the same time everyday. This pattern helps our minds begin to wind down at the scheduled time, allowing us to spend far less time trying to fall asleep. A consistent sleep-wake schedule conditions our brain to sleep during specific hours, and this routine helps us get a more restful sleep (increased deep sleep) while we are sleeping. If we choose to schedule and prioritize sleep, the quantity of the time we are awake may diminish, but the quality of our lives while we are awake will vastly improve (and we'll live longer anyway).
2. Only lie down in bed when it is time to sleep. - We want to condition ourselves to associate lying down in bed with sleep, not with wakefulness. This means we shouldn't lie down in bed to watch television or go online. Further, if we find ourselves tossing and turning in the night, it is a good idea to get up and leave the room. Sit up and read a book for a few minutes until we feel sleepy, and then return to the bed to sleep.
3. Sleep in a cooler room - Our bodies naturally decrease our temperature to fall into sleep. The ideal temperature for sleep is 18.5 degrees celsius.
4. Avoid caffeine in the hours before bed - This may seem obvious, we all know that caffeine is a stimulant, and can make it hard to fall sleep; however, having an evening cup of coffee or caffeinated beverage may have another hidden deleterious effect - some studies suggest that caffeine not only makes it more difficult to fall asleep, but it also diminishes the amount of time in deep sleep while we are sleeping.
5. Stop staring at your phone, or tablet, or laptop. The blue light in the screen we're often looking at in the hours before bed can actually be tricking our brain into believing it is still the daylight hours, and thus diminishing the production of melatonin, which is a hormone released to help control sleep and wake cycles. Most experts recommend that we stop viewing blue light emitting devices approximately an hour before going to bed. If this seems excessive, maybe just don't lie in bed looking at the screen before turning off the light and closing your eyes, cause this would violate not just one, but two of the rules above.
Various experts - psychologists, psychiatrists, behaviour analysts, counsellors etc can preach the benefits of sleep, they can arm us with this knowledge, but that knowledge is useless without implementation.
So this is your challenge- try to implement these strategies for the next 7 - 10 days. Track your hours slept and aim for at least 8 hours per night. Go so far as to log the times you went to bed and the times you woke up, and track your moods as well. Are you calmer and happier? Is that annoying person at work still so bothersome? Is your spouse's, or significant other's, or roommate's negligence with regard to his or her cleaning responsibilities still impossibly irritating? Is traffic still infuriating? Are you getting more done at home and at work? Are you laughing more?
I'll bet you will feel better. It's worth a try. There is very little to lose, and a world to gain.
"Sleep is the best meditation" - Dalai Lama