Natalie Quinn Walker, Blended Learning Tutor (Healthcare Management Programme) at Arden University, talks us through the four-step programme to improve your sleep
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), health is the state of complete mental, physical and social wellbeing, with an absence of disease or illness, and is the reflection of the prevention of mental disorder and rehabilitation of the individual. Nearly a quarter of the population in the UK will suffer from a form of a mental health problem throughout the course of their lives, with depression being the most common.
Mental Health Awareness Week
This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, taking place from 14 to 18 May 2020, will be focusing on the connection between sleep and mental health. Sleep is vital for the body to recover from our everyday activities. Fundamentally, interrupted sleep can impact a person’s mental concentration and their capacity to complete simple tasks.
There is no ‘magic pill’ to cure depression, as anti-depressants only compress the depression. Self-care and engaging with supportive services can assist with overcoming depression, as it provides the person with the opportunity to participate in down-time, re-focus their energy and health on positivity, in turn encouraging growth.
Sleep is a fundamental basic need
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (1943) explains that sleep is one of the fundamental basic needs for someone to function, and a lack of sleep has a profound effect on your mental health. Consequently, poor sleep can become a contributing factor to mental health issues as the person begins to struggle with physical exhaustion, leading them to suffer from low moods and depression.
Dijk et al. (2010) state that adults should be sleeping seven to eight hours on average per day. However, in reality, how many people manage to sleep a full eight hours a night with work, children and schooling to consider?
Many students have to juggle work, relationships and their degree with multiple deadlines looming, and often struggle to balance these evenly. Therefore, emphasising the importance of maintaining a healthy pattern of sleep is vital for the benefit of their mental health, as this could reduce some of the pressures they are dealing with. Sleep is vital for our bodies’ development as it provides time to protect the immune system and process the information we have come across throughout the day.
The four-step programme
The Mental Health Foundation (2016) recommend the use of a four-step programme that could heal or address some of the sleep issues that are occurring. Students at university, whether they are on campus or studying through distance learning, can highly benefit from this approach.
Firstly, consider the bodies’ health: are there any physical or mental health issues that may be affecting the sleeping pattern? For example, diabetes can affect sleeping patterns, as well as an overactive thyroid gland.
While these examples might not apply to most young people in higher education, there are other mental health issues such as depression and anxiety that students might experience. These can restrict the person from falling asleep or result in them waking up several times throughout the night. If someone has any of these health issues, it is recommended that they visit their GP for further information and support.
The environment is another factor that needs to be considered. Students need to review the structure of their bedrooms or accommodation, including adjusting the lighting and temperature of the room, as this could improve the quality of the sleep. Removing a television from the bedroom or reducing screen time on tablets and mobile phones before bedtime can also improve the quality of sleep, as otherwise the mind is active and unable to relax.
State of mind
Although removing a television may seem dramatic, this vital trick could allow students to relax as they begin to associate the bedroom with sleeping, rather than watching television or studying. Therefore, this links to a person’s attitude. The Mental Health Foundation recommends people read a book or listen to calming music instead of using technology devices before bedtime. These simple changes could reduce anxiety and allow students to drift off into a calming sleep state.
These simple changes ultimately lead to Lifestyle changes. The Mental Health Foundation recommends dietary changes, including eating less sugary meals and engaging in exercise. Another approach is planning your schedule and checking a tick box list which will assist in calming the mind. This method will allow you to see what tasks you have completed and have yet to do.
Many students consider themselves as night owls or night learners and feel those are their peak hours of proactivity. However, this affects the body’s ability to work naturally, as throughout the day the student might struggle to engage and retain information. It is vital that your sleep habits stay regular as the mind learns the body’s routine and changing the schedule too often can make it more difficult to sleep. It is therefore important to go to bed at the same time every day, regardless of it being a weekend or a bank holiday.
If students are feeling particularly under stress due their studies or feel that external issues might affect their learning experience and results, schools and universities often provide professional support. They can provide a first point of contact and will help in identifying the issues.
To seek further support, if you are struggling with sleep, feeling stressed or unable to cope, Samaritans provide a 24/7 confidential and emotional support for those experiencing distress and loneliness. Their contact number is 0800 726 666.
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