Hit the Hay: Three Reasons Why Good Sleep is Crucial for Mental Health

One in three American adults don’t get enough sleep. Though Johns Hopkins Medicine reports that as many as ninety percent of North Americans respond to this chronic lack of sleep with a regular dose of caffeine, that little pick-me-up doesn’t cut it. Sleep deprivation is still having an impact on the individual’s body. Failing to get at least seven hours of sleep at night for adults can have dangerous effects on individuals’ mental health. Here are three reasons why you should prioritize quality sleep for the sake of your peace of mind.

The brain needs regular cleaning.

Throughout the day as the brain takes in environmental data and performs complex problem-solving, waste materials back up in the central nervous system. According to one study published in Science, the brains of sleeping mice were documented as significantly better at removing this neural waste material than the brains of waking mice. Without enough sleep the brain can’t clean itself, leaving us feeling groggy and disoriented the following day.

The brain needs time to process powerful experiences.

Trauma survivors who sleep immediately following a traumatic incident have a lower risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than trauma survivors who do not sleep. A study published in the journal Sleep found that sleep immediately following a traumatic experience helps to consolidate and process that experience, decreasing the likelihood that the survivor will develop PTSD.

Many people who experience trauma go on to develop some combination of anxiety, hyper-vigilance or flashbacks of the traumatic event, all common symptoms of PTSD. An addiction to drugs or alcohol can begin as an unhealthy coping mechanism a survivor uses to treat symptoms of PTSD. Sleeping within a few hours of a traumatic event acts like a preventative treatment against developing PTSD, helping the brain get things in order so the survivor can effectively process and move on from the trauma.

Peace of mind contributes to peaceful sleep.

Prioritizing quality sleep can also foster other mental health benefits typically associated with mindfulness practices. In a recent study conducted by researchers at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, people who reported difficulty sleeping were treated with one of two interventions: a standardized mindfulness awareness practice (MAP), or a sleep hygiene education curriculum (SHE). After six weeks, participants who engaged in MAP interventions were more likely to sleep better and experience better quality sleep than those who went through the SHE program.

This research demonstrates that mindfulness techniques can be an effective way of getting more quality sleep without resorting to prescription or over-the-counter sleep aids. Many of the most common sleep aids have some risk for abuse or physical dependency. People with a history of addiction or who are concerned about this potential should consider cultivating a meditation practice during the day or before bed to help ease the mind into restful sleep.


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