What do sleep and mental health disorders have in common?? Well it turns out more than you might think. First of all, most, if not all, mental health diagnoses impact or demonstrate disruptions in sleep. At one point researchers thought that psychiatric disorders caused the sleep disorders, however more recent studies have indicated that it might be the opposite, that sleep problems may influence mental health problems. This is important information because if we can focus on sleep and getting enough good-quality sleep, than maybe we can also influence how psychiatric disorders present themselves.
If we take a step back and think about this, it makes total sense. How many times have you had a late night, lost some sleep, and the next day find yourself more emotional than usual? Maybe you cry more easily, or lose your temper more readily. Or look at our kids, if our son or daughter is misbehaving or having temper tantrums we often consider - oh he or she is tired, they missed their nap, they went to bed late, etc. Why do we not consider the same for ourselves as adults??
I want to talk a little bit about sleep because it is so important, not just for overall well-being and health, but also for our mental health.
I have to confess that sleep is of particular interest to me because for years I lovingly referred to it as my “elusive friend.” My personal interest, along with my professional interest, brought me to a training on CBT-I or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia.
I have to give a huge shout out to Meg Danforth, Ph.D. CBSM, Director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at Duke University Medical Center. She was a fabulous instructor and she made the most seemingly non-lively thing that we do extremely interesting and engaging. Information on sleep that I am sharing in this blog series come mostly from the training I attended with Dr. Danforth, as well as from the book Sleep Right In Five Nights, by James Perl PhD.
For me the use of this blog is to help me process and digest information from trainings or books that I have read so that I can better explain and implement the concepts in my clinical practice. If I can learn it, read it, digest it, and write about it, I can teach it.
Here we go… The first aspect of sleep that is interesting to know, is that during the day, when we are awake, we build up this chemical in our bodies called adenosine.
When we wake up in the morning, we do not have a lot of adenosine in our cells. As the day goes on we build up more adenosine. Dr. Danforth compared it to a balloon. She explained that in the morning our balloon is empty, if we are active and do a lot during the day, we fill our balloon, aka build up adenosine in our cells. Adenosine is responsible for deep sleep drive. So the more adenosine we have the more deep sleep drive we have, meaning more ability to fall into a deep sleep, which is what we want!
When it comes to sleep it is very important to be mindful of how you are spending your day. It was stated that most adults need about 16-18 hours of alert time to build enough deep sleep drive for quality sleep, 14-15 hours of alert time may not produce enough. If you are having trouble sleeping and realize that you spent most of your day in bed, on the couch, or sitting down, then scheduling some active activities into your day might be beneficial. The more you can do during the day the better chances of filling your balloon, building up that adenosine, and achieving a good level of deep sleep drive!
So that is tip #1 that I want you to know about sleep. It seems so simple right?? Like common sense, yes doing more during the day will help you sleep better, but for some reason I think we forget this. Knowing some science behind it helps make it more meaningful. Get out there, and do some things during the day so you can sleep better at night! Until next time…Dr. B.
Perl, J. (1993). Sleep Right in Five Nights: A clear and effective guide for conquering insomnia. New York, NY: William Morrow and Company, Inc.
Danforth, M. (2018). Treating Insomnia: Evidence-based strategies to help your clients sleep. Presentation, New Jersey.