Why sleep is super important for your mental health

Sleep series #2 – rest for a calm mind

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This is the second entry in my sleep series, you can find the first feature on why sleep is the best natural PED here. My aim with this series is to highlight just how important sleep and overall rest is to support a positive state of health.

This time, we are going to look at why sleep is super important to maintaining a healthy mind. I’ve written a couple of pieces on utilising meditation, the people you surround yourself with, supplementation and alternative therapies. Sleep is another just as important, if not a more important process that will support a healthy mind alongside these tools.

(Disclaimer – I’m not a doctor and am not playing one on the internet, these are my own views and experiences – remember to consult your doctor or medical practitioner for professional advice)

What we know and some insights

So we already know that sleep allows our body to repair itself and our brains to consolidate memories and process information. On the physical side, poor sleep is a main contributor towards a weakened immune system, poor eating habits and more. What’s interesting to me from a mental health perspective is that in problems such as anxiety and depression, sleep seems to be a cause and effect.

Scientists have discovered that a disrupted sleep pattern affects the levels of neurotransmitters, stress hormones, along with a host of other things which cause chaos in the brain. You can experience common affects such as impaired thinking and difficulty in emotional regulation, which is something I personally really struggle with and sets off the sirens for my anxiety.

It’s safe to say that a crap sleep pattern = a difficult mind

What can I do to help myself

The answer is loads, you have a wealth of options at your disposal that can support in building a healthy sleep pattern.

From looking at your sleep hygiene to getting your body moving, let’s take a look at some of the self-care techniques we can explore to improve our sleep:

Sleep hygiene

This terms is thrown around alot nowadays and it looks at introducing habits such as:

  • Keeping a regular sleep and wake schedule (even at the weekend folks! Your body has no concept of the difference between a weekday or weekend)
  • Only using the bedroom for sleeping or making magic happen
  • Making sure your room is dark and free of intrusive artificial light, think about Batman’s cave here – invest in black out blinds, sleep mask and earplugs to drown out any external noises (both sleep masks and earplugs are an integral part of my sleep routine)
  • No distractions from anything with a screen – this means tv’s, tablets and yes your phone! social media can wait till sunrise.
  • Keep your bedroom cool and cold, nobody likes sleeping in a hot room so make sure to get the temperature just right for you.
  • Keep your room minimalistic and clean, a cluttered room can be distracting and very uncomfortable to sleep in.

Move your body

Regular physical activity will help you in falling asleep faster for longer and reduce the potential for awaking in the night.

  • Move your workouts to the afternoon – if you workout early and suffer from lack of sleep, try moving your workout to the afternoon and see how this affects you. After years of working out very early in the morning, I switched my daily workouts to after 6pm and it’s worked well for my own sleep.
  • Try some light stretching or a short yoga routine an hour before bed, nothing strenuous just a quick and relaxing 10 minute routine will do.

Lifestyle changes – develop new habits

There are a number of things that we know we shouldn’t indulge in if we want a good nights sleep, Coffee is generally seen as the number 1 troublemaker when it comes to sleep but do you know the others?

  • Drinking alcohol and smoking might seem like fun (why I don’t really know) but these are both stimulants that will knock you straight out of your sleep. Nicotine speeds up your heart rate and thinking patterns so getting in that last puff of smoke before you hit the sack is not such a great idea.
  • Your food choices like with your everyday health are just as important for a healthy sleep. Eating tons of junk food regardless of the time will have negative impacts on your mind and body, your immune system runs through your gut so if you feed it trash, you’ll feel like crap and that’s not going to support your war on sleep deprivation. Basically make better choices on the stuff you allow to enter your gut.

A few personal strategies of my own

I couldn’t write this without throwing in a few things that have worked for me too. Be aware that I don’t have one of these fancy ‘sleep routines’ which I follow like a military operation, but I have a number activities that I regularly find of help.

  • Mediation- ever popular and billed as what seems to be the solution to everything nowadays and for me it really does help on occasions before bed. I don’t do this every night, but on those days where I’ve felt a bit tense, I’ll sit down and shut down my mind from the day with a 10 minute session usually coupled with some soft breathing exercises.
  • Epsom salt bath – if there is one thing I find the most relaxing among my pre bed habits, it’s this one. A nice warm bath with muscle relaxing Epsom salts and maybe a few drops of lavender oil on those rougher days is a master recipe for relaxation and a beautiful nights sleep.
  • Reading a book – I know this doesn’t work for everyone, but I find something so calming about reading a book before I go to bed and it also provides me with a daily sense of accomplishment in doing something that feels productive and thus lets my mind rest.
  • My phone is never in my bedroom – this has become a golden rule for me over the last 5 years. My phone never follows me to the bedroom (only in special emergency circumstances does this change) as it’s the number 1 enemy and biggest distraction to getting any sleep, that tiny blue lit screen will cause you all types of havoc.
  • Recently I’ve been experimenting with taking drops of CBD oil before bed as recent studies have shown an improvement in quality of sleep when taking this plant oil before sleeping. I’ve noticed improvements on a few occasions and it’s enough for me to list it here. If you’re not familiar with CBD, you can read about it here in a past article of mine.

Once more the bottom line is, if you want to nurture a mentally healthy mind you need to sleep and taking action to improve your sleep will bring you lots of benefits.

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