Sometimes, a busy lifestyle where you’re always on the go with no stops in between seems like the only path to happiness and success. Here at Intelligent Change, we build and celebrate a different lifestyle––the one that is nurturing, mindful, and conscious.
Sleep and Rest for Mental Health
Having enough sleep is one of the most critical pillars of mental health. We spend approximately a third of our lifetime in the comfort of our beds, processing our daily events behind closed eyes and giving our body and mind the rest they deserve.
The reason why we need to complete a 6-to-8-hour sleeping cycle every 24 hours is still not completely clear, yet, we do know a lot about the benefits of sleep for our mental and physical well-being.
The idea behind rest is a bit less straightforward, as the meaning of rest depends on the person and the situation. Sometimes, to rest is to sit comfortably on the sofa and dive into a book, while it also means taking a walk in nature or treating ourselves to a pleasurable experience.
Our sleeping cycle is divided into stages, each of them playing an important role in energizing and recovering our bodies after a day full of activities. During deep sleep, our minds and bodies are resting and recharging, while during the well-known REM (Rapid Eye Movement) phase, we step into the exciting world of dreams. Despite their seeming lack of logic, dreams actually help us integrate our daily experiences and regulate and process emotions.
Research from 2000 revealed that sleep is necessary after training a new skill, and scientists think that REM sleep plays a critical role in memory consolidation. As we sleep, our brains are trying to make sense of our experiences. You may have noticed that you become more irritable, sad, or dissociated from your environment when you are repeatedly sleep-deprived. That’s because your brain and nervous system need you to sleep in order to process your day and relax.
In the past, sleeping problems were seen as a consequence of depression, but a growing body of research is showing that it’s actually a two-way street. Research has shown that disordered sleep is a core symptom of depression and that over 75% of people with depression experience insomnia. The idea is that lack of sleep can lead to emotional disbalance, which then further interrupts the quality of sleep. There is a similar relationship between sleep and other conditions like anxiety, bipolar disorder, ADHD, and autism, with indications that a fixed sleeping schedule can make a positive impact on people suffering from these disorders.
Fortunately, there are simple strategies for improving the quality of our sleep, including having a nice night-time routine that will gradually calm us down.
Rest and Mental Health
Rest, as a fundamental happiness and success factor, encompasses a wide range of activities, and it appears to be a major stress relief factor that enhances our creativity and improves our mood.
Neuropsychological studies of brain imaging have unambiguously shown that a brain at rest exhibits spontaneous activity that corresponds to creative thinking. Just think about how many times you’ve had the most magnificent ideas while relaxing in the shower, for example.
Rest seems to be crucial for productivity and decision-making, too. A fatigued, overwhelmed brain is slower and more uncertain. This is why the majority of people like to do their most important things on Mondays. Even without a scientific explanation, we know that we are more ready for challenges after a relaxing weekend.
In times of increased stress, it’s essential to be mindful of mental hygiene, and include self-care, relaxation, and rest in your schedule. A day in nature may surprise you with its healing powers when you least expect it. The vitamin D that we receive through daily sun exposure has shown to be vital for preventing (or combating) symptoms of depression.
How to Fall Asleep When Stressed
Getting a good night’s sleep is crucial for maintaining a healthy mind, but what if we can’t sleep because of stress?
When we feel highly stressed, we may project our worries and uncertainties to other spheres of life, one of them being sleep. “Cogito ergo insomnis” (“I think, therefore I am sleepless”) is one such phenomenon described by researcher Anika Norell-Clarke. It represents the fear of being unable to fall asleep, as a projection of other worries that we struggle to overcome.
The vicious circle of sleep deprivation and perceived stress is a threat to our well-being, and it’s important that we take measures before the symptoms get more serious.
Here are some great techniques that can help you fall asleep even when you are stressed out.
Spiraling down the negativity whirlpool can disrupt our sleep, which then creates a feedback loop, draining our emotional and mental well-being even further. Practicing gratitude breaks this vicious circle because it helps us remember and affirm everything and everyone we value in our lives.
You can easily implement gratitude in your evening routine with the Five Minute Journal. The trick is to wire your brain to always search for the positive aspects of a situation, even when it seems there are none.
Practicing gratitude as part of your nighttime routine can help you during stressful periods. Even on the most challenging days, the practice of gratitude helps us wrap up our day on a positive note.
Log Off from Screens
Many people seek escapism and comfort online or decide to binge entertaining, soft content during challenging and stressful times. There’s no shame in admitting that we’ve all done it. However, the blue light that the screens emit tends to block melatonin, the hormone that makes us feel sleepy. That’s why spending too much time in front of screens, particularly during the evening, can disrupt your sleep schedule.
Instead of putting yourself through this additional stress, consider a different comforting activity before sleep. Reading a book, meditating, light stretching, or listening to calming music are some of the good ways to calm yourself to sleep.
Water washes away everything and that includes difficult emotions as well. A warm shower can calm you down, and help you detach yourself from daily stressors. If you have a tub at home and have a chance to take a bath, different kinds of relaxing bath oils can help you calm down before sleep. The smell of lavender is considered to have positive effects on anxiety, as it reduces the body’s fight-or-flight response. Entering a cool bedroom after a warm and relaxing shower will reduce your blood pressure and this will naturally make you drowsy and sleepy.
Have a Relaxing Cup of Tea
For ages, herbs have been our health companions. That’s why today, in every pharmacy or specialized tea store, you will find a herbal blend designed to help you calm down, relax, and enjoy a good sleep even during stressful times. Herbs like valeriana, chamomile, or lavender and mint are well-known to be soothing for the nervous system.
Daily Exercise and Outdoor Activities
Outdoor activities and spending time in fresh air help us detoxicate and balance our brain and body chemistry. Physical activity promotes the secretion of endorphins, which are crucial for feeling good about ourselves. Fresh air and sun also provide us with vitamin D. Optimal levels of vitamin D are important for melatonin secretion, without which it’s difficult to fall asleep.
Techniques to Calm Your Mind
Many of the mind-calming techniques presented below can easily be implemented in your morning or evening routine, used as resting activities, or to help you fall asleep.
Do you know how to meditate? Meditation is an important part of personal spiritual practice, and it helps us rest, relax, and detach from daily anxieties and burdens. It takes us out of our heads and brings us into our bodies, giving us back the inner locus of control by reminding us to be present in the here and now.
Keeping a reflective journal is a great way to relax, reflect on your emotions, and engage in constructive self-care. If you’re a type of person who likes to keep a journal, you may find it enjoying and inspiring to try other types of journals as well. Some of them can be a part of a beautiful and fulfilling hobby, such as gardening or photography.
Use the evening hours to connect with your subconscious, make room for ideas and dreams, relax, and get inspired. As a twilight ritual, Night Notes will help you sleep better and wake up with renewed vitality. And just like there are more than one ways to rest, there is no right or wrong method to use our journal. Make the most out of each section––Dreams, Ideas, To-Do's, and Creative Musings––whenever and however it feels right to you.
Talking to a Dear Person
A close and intimate conversation with a loved one, a close friend, or a supportive family member can be a great way to unburden your mind, and express yourself. Being connected to others, along with being heard and understood, promotes a sense of belonging which is immensely important for mental health.
Talking to a Therapist
Many therapists will tell you not to wait for the times to get tough to start considering therapy. Psychotherapy can be a place where you learn how to navigate stressful periods, balance your emotions, get the support you need, or simply be heard.
Soothing Self-Care Practice
What is self-care for you? Taking long baths, going to the spa, reading books, journaling, writing poetry, painting…or simply sitting down and having a cup of tea. Think about the activity that makes you feel as if you’ve been hugged and supported by yourself, and make sure to get more of that.
This is how you help yourself to keep calm and stay strong even during the toughest times. Sometimes it’s necessary to take a step back from your responsibilities before you are able to engage with them again.