“When did you last get a good night’s sleep?”
I was out at a work function chatting about sleep with another attendee, and why it sometimes felt so elusive.
In asking her the question, I was totally unprepared for her answer.
After pausing to think for a couple of moments she looked at me and said, “about 15 years ago!”
It’s something that can come easily or is something we yearn for.
It’s also your superpower for enhanced work performance and better mental wellbeing.
So why is it that we allow ourselves to put up with poor sleep, night after night when we know the difference a great night’s sleep can have on our mood, vitality, and productivity?
It’s estimated one-third of Australians are chronically sleep-deprived. In other words, we deliberate reduce our opportunity for sleep, choosing to stay up late and, or get up extra early. Others may have insomnia or one of the other 80 recognised sleep disorders.
This implies we place little value on our sleep despite the research showing how vital it is to health, happiness, and performance.
As we celebrate Safe Work Month and Mental Health Week let’s look at why it’s time to reprioritise our sleep.
Sleep is a 24-hour cycle.
When not engaged in some shut-eye, the activities you engage with when awake influence the quality and duration of your sleep at night.
Being sufficiently active, avoiding sleep poisons (caffeine, alcohol, and smoking) and knowing how to calm your overbusy, overstressed mind is all important. As is the regularity of your sleep schedule, your pre-bed wind-down routine and keeping the bedroom cool dark and comfortable and as a sacred space for sleep and sex only.
Research has shown we all need between 7-9 hours of good quality, uninterrupted sleep. The rule of thumb being that for every 2 hours you are awake you need one hour of sleep.
Sleep and mental health are bidirectional
What this means is that poor sleep can put you at higher risk of developing anxiety or depression or exacerbate an existing condition.
While 90% of those with a diagnosed mental health challenge report having disordered sleep.
Prof Daniel Freeman and colleagues from Oxford University believe the two-way relationship can bring about a downward spiral and that the sleep disturbance is frequently overlooked by health professionals as needing to be addressed early on, or as part of the management of the mental health disorder.
For those living with anxiety, you may find your sleep is disturbed by ruminative thoughts causing you to worry more, which leads to you feeling more stressed, more tired during the day and feeding an endless cycle of negativity.
Insomnia (the inability to sleep) has been shown to precede the development of depression, anxiety, and bipolar illness. In one study insomnia was found to be linked to a x4 increased risk of depression developing some three years later
In depression, those affected may notice they sleep far more than usual (hypersomnia) or less.
Poor sleep contributes to brain fog, that horrible feeling that your brain is stuffed full of cotton wool. You can’t think straight, you’re struggling to stay focused or to be able to make what seems like a sensible decision. Thinking feels hard and small problems now feel insurmountable.
Sleep helps you regulate your emotions
Being able to control your emotions when upset or stressed helps you deal more effectively with the situation.
If you’ve just had a big argument with your partner, being sleep-deprived can put you at risk of flipping out, overreacting to the situation, which could jeopardise the future of your long-term relationship.
Good sleep helps you to maintain a healthy perspective, be less irritable and reactive. You’re more likeable if you’ve had a good sleep!
Shakespeare in Henry 1V, Part 2, describes sleep as “nature’s soft nurse.”
What a wonderful description, and as appropriate today as when he wrote those words 400-plus years ago.
Staying mentally healthy with a good night’s sleep.
Start with the intention of a consistent sleep schedule of going to bed and getting up at the same time, every day.
Misalignment to your circadian rhythm and variable sleep times leads to shorter, poorer quality, fragmented sleep associated with increased negative responses to adversity and challenge and reduced positive responses to good events.
While a Norwegian study found that shortening sleep time by 2 hours reduced an individual’s capacity to experience joy, enthusiasm or to have a sense of fulfillment.
Those working shifts such as health, frontline professionals and FIFO workers may be vulnerable to an increased risk of mental mood disorders.
Sleep matters, so treat it like gold.
What effect does poor sleep have on your work performance and mental wellbeing?
Dr Jenny Brockis is a board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life (Wiley) is now available for purchase
If psychological safety, burnout prevention and mental wellbeing is something you’d like to find out more about, please contact me to set up a time for a chat.