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Restoring the Balance: Start with Sleep #MHW2020

Men’s Health Week 2020 

June 2020

The theme for Men’s Health Week 2020 is ‘Restoring the Balance’, calling on everyone to be part of the solution.  And what better place to start than Sleep, that essential, refreshing, sometimes elusive activity that occupies so much of our time and is so important to our physical and mental health.

Mental health issues like depression and anxiety are widespread across the genders, but men in particular are often reluctant to open up about mental health. In Ireland today, 75% of suicides are men and globally we lose a man to suicide every minute.

Men’s Health Forum in Ireland has highlighted that since the COVID-19 outbreak “individuals across the country are trying to re-build their lives, relationships, jobs, finances, physical health, emotional resilience, connections, routines etc.” Everyone’s mental health has been impacted to some degree, and there is a strong need to find some new form of balance.

Although Ireland is slowly easing restrictions, we are still living through stressful and unsettling times. We all continue to face mental and emotional health challenges associated with lockdown. We all need to proactively protect our own mental wellness as well as look out for those around us.

 

Back to Basics

Sometimes when we are feeling out of sorts and trying to regain some sense of balance in our lives, going back to basics and focusing on your sleep routine can be a really good place to start.

When you think of improving your mental health and restoring balance in your life, you may not always consider the huge health benefits of improving your sleeping habits. In fact, it can be easy to dismiss the importance of sleep in maintaining a mentally healthy lifestyle. Yet, research indicates that a night of restful sleep restores the brain and prepares it for emotional challenges the next day.

As basic as it sounds, Sleep is one highly effective thing we can do to optimise our mental health and our ability to cope with stress, anxiety, low moods and other mental health issues that we may face.

Sleeping is Recharging

Sleep has an important restorative function in ‘recharging’ the brain at the end of each day, just as we need to charge a mobile phone battery after prolonged use. Maintaining a regular sleep-wake cycle allows the natural rhythm of the body to be reset everyday and so optimises brain functioning.

Ongoing poor sleep can be a huge risk factor for the development of depression and other mental health issues. The risk of feeling depressed and/or anxious increases with the severity of insomnia so it is important to recognise and sort out sleep problems as soon as they are identified.

The Effects of Sleep Deprivation 

Missed sleep can lead to psychological and physical ill health in many ways.

Psychological symptoms and effects include:

  • Low mood
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Erratic behaviour
  • Poor cognitive functioning and performance (e.g. forgetfulness, making mistakes and slower thinking than usual)
  • Psychotic episodes

Physical symptoms and effects include:

  • Physical symptoms of anxiety (e.g. tight chest and shortness of breath)
  • Tiredness
  • Elevation in blood pressure and stress hormones
  • Negative effects on cardiovascular health (increased risk of strokes and heart attacks)
  • Immune damage which can lead to many other physical problems

Some people need more sleep and others need less, but getting enough for you can make a huge difference to your life.

No-one’s at their best when they’re tired. An extra hour sleep each night could hugely improve your mental wellness and restore balance in the hours you spend awake. Here are some of the benefits of getting good quality sleep:

  • Boosted Moods
  • Increased Energy
  • Better coping mechanisms
  • Sharper Concentration

Guide to Better Sleeping Habits  

Changing your sleeping habits can make a positive difference to insomnia. Here are some tips to help improve the quality of your sleep.

  • Limit napping. Too much sleep during the day can effect your ability to fall or stay asleep at night. Naps of 20 to 30 minutes a day can help you feel more alert and rested without interrupting your nightly sleep.
  • Establish a nightly routine. Stick to a set of habits that help prepare you for rest each night. Take a bath, read a book, or practice a few minutes of meditation to calm your body. Repeat these routines each night to help set the mood for a solid night’s sleep.
  • Avoid caffeine or stimulants too close to bedtime. Consuming coffee, certain soft drinks, or other caffeinated products in the late afternoon or evening can make it difficult to fall asleep.
  • Avoid Alcohol: Bedtime bevies might seem to help you get to sleep quicker, but alcohol actually reduces your quality of sleep during the night. It can also skew the balance between different sleep types and make you more tired in the morning.
  • Turn off your devices. Watching television or playing on your phone at bedtime can make it more difficult to relax and settle down for sleep. Try setting limits on when you quit using your devices before bed.

 

If Insomnia Continues

Sleep patterns can give clues that mental illness is present or developing. Poor sleep over a prolonged period, having trouble getting to sleep or waking up early frequently may be symptoms – or causes – of a mental health issue such as stress, anxiety or depression. For people with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, poor sleep can be an indicator that they need to take steps to stay well.

If you are going through an extended period of insomnia, it may be time to seek help.  But what can you do?

  • Book in an appointment with your GP who can evaluate the causes and the scale of the problem and recommend steps to take to improve your sleep.
  • You may find it helpful to read 3Ts Self Help Guide on Sleep
  • Consider getting some therapy. Book an appointment with a counsellor – visit https://iacp.ie/page to find a counsellor in your area or watch our 3Ts video on Counselling: What it does and how to access it.
  • Call a Support line:
    • AWARE – Assists those directly affected by depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder as well as their concerned loved ones. Helpline: 1890 303 302 (Mon-Sun 10am–10pm)
    • SAMARITANS – Confidential support, befriending and listening to those in personal crisis, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Freephone 116 123 (callers from Rep of Ireland)                          N Ireland Helpline:  08457 90 90 90 (callers from N. Ireland). Email: jo@samaritans.org (email response issues within 24 hours)