Health

Why Sleep Is So Important

Photo by Alexander Possingham on Unsplash

The clocks have gone back and the nights have well and truly drawn in. So why not make the most of it by developing a positive sleep habit? Why? Because sleep can be a great way to maintain our mental wellness. And maintaining mental health during the winter can be challenging.

The benefits of a good night’s sleep for our physical are obvious and well known. It restores energy, helps to boost the immune system, helps you to be alert etc. Less well known are the benefits it provides mental wellbeing. To the majority of people, these benefits may be less well obvious.  However, they are just as important, if not more so. This is especially true at this time of year when the hours of daylight are far less.

Seeking Comfort

At this time of year, we tend to stay at home a lot more. The temptation to spend the evenings in front of the TV or our phones can be overwhelming. We seek ‘comfort’. However, this ‘comfort’ may in fact be the total opposite of what we really need. Far from reducing our stress or anxiety, a night spent scrolling through social media or streaming all sorts of lifestyle shows can in fact increase them.

We often want to escape, but the fact is we can’t. At least we cannot escape physically all the time. We just have to tough things out. That can be difficult. Wanting something we can’t have. Sometimes feeling trapped, lonely or isolated can make existing stresses and worries worse. We are often prone to dwelling on things. We try to distract ourselves but these things don’t go away.

Summoning the will to get up

By physically going to bed instead of staying up late is a very direct way of reducing the amount of time we have to dwell or beat ourselves up. Going to bed earlier and sleeping for longer also makes it easier to wake up in the morning. Summoning the will to wake up during the winter can be as much mental as it can physical.

Therefore being less tired waking up can take away some of the physical efforts. Thus the mental effort needed is reduced. In addition, there is no doubt that tiredness can affect our mental state. Positivity and resilience are far more difficult to generate when we are tired.

However, there is no doubt that going to bed earlier can be difficult in the winter. We, humans, are diurnal in nature. We are pre-programmed to be active in the daylight and then restful when it gets dark. Maintaining this during the winter is hard. Especially when the sun goes down at say 4 pm.

At night there is no natural or obvious sign to tell us ‘time to sleep’ now, like in the summer. When it is dark for so long it is almost easier to stay up for longer. By watching TV etc. we are essentially tricking our bodies into thinking it is ok to stay up until all hours.

It’s all about the routine

So why not just get up later? A lot of the time we just don’t have this option. As much as we may sometimes want it to, life does not stop. We often have to get up. So why make it more difficult. Routine can really help get us through a tough time. It is one of the basics for mental wellness and it’s one of the best. It works really well when coming to a sleep routine. Once you start and you acclimatise, the benefits become obvious in a very short space of time.

Another routine which may be necessary is to ensure that we get enough exercise during the winter. Again this can be very difficult. But again can do wonders for our mental wellness and our sleep habits. There is no doubt that it is easier to sleep when tired.  Being physically tired also helps to slow our mental processes down. This can help reduce our focus on worries or stressful things and make actually falling asleep easier.

Food

The other big challenge to a good night’s sleep is food. We all sometimes eat more in the winter. Again, this can be in the search for comfort. And yet again, it is a natural instinct for us humans. When it’s cold outside we eat more to ward it off, we literally attempt to insulate ourselves with food.

Unfortunately, our genes are not aware of a thing called central heating and hollow fibre jackets. So we eat. And eat. Eating, especially high sugar or high-fat foods does not help us to sleep. Often it encourages us to stay up later. And if we are particularly unkind to ourselves it can be yet another source of anxiety and stress i.e. eating too much.

Winter is tough no doubt. For many, at times it can be quite depressing. We, therefore, if we can, need to help ourselves out as much as possible. Especially in regard to taking care of our mental wellbeing. We certainly need to be more aware of it. If this means looking at how we sleep, then maybe it could be worth it? On the grand scale of things, it’s a small thing. Yet something that could make a big difference.  

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