Sleep Mental Health and Relationships. Yes, there is a connection. In fact, according to Dr Michael Mosley, sleep is critical for your mental and physical health. Before I focused my attention on relationships within my coaching practice, I worked for the NHS as a therapist. One thing that I noticed then and notice now, both within the lives of my clients and within my own life, is the significance of getting the right amount of sleep.
And when I say the right amount of sleep, I mean the right amount of sleep for you. Like in most things in life, sleep and the amount you require, is different for everyone.
People have varying ideas around sleep, some even say it is good waste of time, when you could be productive in other areas of your life and resent having to carry out the act at all.
Research into sleep has shown that there are so many things that happen during our sleep cycle, that are of benefit to us, that we really do need to get the right amount of shut eye daily and one that fits your circadian rhythm (24-hour cycles that are part of the body’s internal clock, running in the background to carry out essential functions and processes.
One of the most important and well-known circadian rhythms is the sleep-wake cycle). In a typical night we will go through 4-6 sleep cycles that last roughly 90 minutes in length, but will vary depending on a variety of factors in each person.
During these cycles we spend time in different sleep stages, of which there are 4:
- Stages 1-3 are known as Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM)
- Stage 4 is Rapid Eye Movement (REM)
What are the benefits of sleep?
It helps us solve problems and consolidate memories. While you are in in the dream state, you are processing a lot of the emotional things that go on during the day. And so, if you don’t get enough REM sleep, you tend to feel irritable.
It allows tissue growth and repair, promotes metabolic health and even flushes out the brain, which if doesn’t happen has been linked to Alzheimer’s and dementia. Disrupted or not enough sleep is known to affect your emotional responses, including increased anxiety, loss of empathy, impulsivity and can even reduce your sense of humour.
Your ability to focus and carry out tasks as it impacts on attention and concentration levels, communication, decision making and creativity.
Poor sleep will also increase your chances of strokes, heart attack, infections, cancer, obesity and diabetes, along with it being more difficult to recover from illness if you are already unwell.
How much do you need?
This is variable, dependent on age and your own circadian rhythms. But roughly, as adults we need 7 hours a day. Some people can function on less because they are genetically made that way. Oh, and we don’t need less as we get older, we just have a tendency to get less.
If your body tells you that an afternoon nap is in order, then you probably need to grab a bit of sleep, with around 30 minutes seen as the optimal time for this. You are more likely to be a night owl – 25% of the population, than a lark – 10% of the population, whereas most fall into the dove category – somewhere in between the two – 65%.
How do you know if you are getting a good night’s sleep?
Pretty simple really. The most reliable indicator is do you feel terrible when you wake in the morning? If you feel you can do what you need to do during the day without significant tiredness, you are probably fine. If, you are dependent on another person to get you out of bed; if you get up late on free days, if you take a long time to wake up and feel alert; if you feel sleepy and irritable during the day or if you feel the need for a caffeinated or sugar-rich drink, these may be signs that you’re not getting sufficient, quality sleep. But there is no formal test.
If you fall asleep straightaway, usually within 15 minutes of going to bed, you are likely to be sleep deprived and if you take up to 50 minutes then you have an issue getting to sleep. 20 minutes usually indicates a healthy time to drop off.
As mentioned, a lack of sleep can lead to irritability, lack of empathy, increased anxiety and so on. It will impact on your health and so your ability to engage with others, share experiences and socialise in general. Your partner may be on the receiving of those moods, that anxiety and your lack of interest in their problems as well as having to put a lot of effort into looking after you.
So, make your quality of sleep your responsibility so that you can be the best, fittest, happiest and healthiest version of yourself as often as possible. That will definitely help your relationships to be the same.
Take possession of your sleep, don’t let anyone tell you what is the right thing for you and ultimately – enjoy it!