Sleep and our emotional wellbeing are interconnected. Most of us are familiar with the negative side of this connection; stress can cause a disrupted night of sleep, which can be followed by feeling drained, more anxious, or irritable the next day.
But how often do we celebrate the plus side? The positive side of the sleep and mental health connection is that feeling good is actually associated with better quality sleep!
There are lots of ways to improve your sleep, but one sneaky way to ‘hack’ good sleep, is to focus on improving your wellbeing. Simply put, if you go to bed happy, you’re more likely to sleep well.
So how do we boost our happiness?
This blog is about 5 evidence-based ways that we can improve our own wellbeing, called the 5 Ways to Wellbeing, and how they are related to sleep. Interestingly, lack of sleep can interfere with every single one of these… which helps to explain why sleepless nights can make us feel so low.
So, what are the 5 Ways to Wellbeing?
People need people. Having a strong support network is one of the strongest predictors of happiness, and helps to buffer the effects of stress. The number of people matters less than the quality of the relationships. If we’re tired we have less energy and motivation to socialise, and lack of sleep can exaggerate this, making us more likely to withdraw socially.
Fortunately, you don’t have to see people in person to feel connected. Take a moment to focus on the people closest to you. Tell them how much you appreciate them, or just make a conscious effort to listen to their problems the next time you see them.
If you don’t sleep well, the last thing in the world you feel like doing is exercise, but getting active can actually give you more energy. Movement helps to kick start the body clock and makes us feel alert, especially in the morning. Exercise also helps to build sleep pressure, making you feel sleepier at night, and helping you fall into a deeper sleep. If you do intense exercise late at night, this can raise the body temperature, so consider allowing time for the body to cool before you can sleep.
The practice of mindfulness meditation is a form of mental training which helps train the mind to focus on the present moment, with curiosity, openness and acceptance. If you haven’t slept well, it’s much harder to concentrate and focus for any length of time, and you may find it’s hard to sit down to a lengthy meditation practice.
You could start by just taking a walk, and focusing on being present. Notice the feel of the floor beneath your feet, the feel of the wind in your hair.. This week’s theme for Mental Health Awareness Week is nature. By getting out into the open air, you will treat your brain to a healthy dose of natural daylight, which helps to keep your circadian rhythms in sync.
Feeling as though we are mastering something can give a valuable boost to our self esteem and confidence. Learning is much more difficult when we haven’t slept well - it’s during sleep that we lay down new memories, and re-charge the brain’s ability to take in new things.
For a wellbeing boost, make it an achievable challenge - cook a new healthy recipe or try a new language learning app. Then allow time to savour your accomplishment.
5.Give - do something nice for others
Finally, volunteering or contributing in some way to the wider community can provide a sense of meaning. In contrast, lack of sleep makes empathising more difficult, and tends to make us more self-centred and even less likely to give to charity.
There is no blueprint for how much time or effort to give, or to whom - simply smiling at someone can lead to a reciprocal urge to smile. Kindness is contagious! Kindness has also been linked to the release of the hormone, oxytocin, which helps to protect against stress, and can help prepare the body for sleep.
Hopefully there are some ideas here which will help you to improve your wellbeing, worry less and sleep more peacefully.