We could argue that sleep plays a massive part in our lives. Many people refer to sleep as helping a person to ‘recharge their batteries’ and recuperate. Others argue that it is important in enabling us to remain physically fit and healthy. Some people claim to be able to function during their waking day on as little as four hours sleep a night, whilst others insist they can only manage after eight hours sleep. For some people who suffer with insomnia, sleep can feel like an ongoing battle. I recently took part in a discussion about sleep; its benefits, why it is important for a healthy body and mind, whether more sleep or the quality of sleep bears any impact on our functioning during our waking day and what determines a ‘good night’s sleep.’
One thing that I think about is how much control we each have over the amount and quality of sleep we get. For many of us, deadlines for projects with work can mean late nights working and early starts to pick up where we left off. I and others I know have at times worked through the night to complete projects, very much avoiding sleep and keeping ourselves awake on caffeine and sugar. Reflecting on such experiences helps me to realise that it is the exact opposite to what health professionals would argue contributes to a healthy body and mind. I’m sure we could all identify some of what constitutes a healthy lifestyle – a balanced diet consisting of fresh foods that are good for us, drinking lots of water, low caffeine and alcohol intake, exercise and sleep. Yet, how many of us find it easy to do this. I wonder that for us all to succeed in following a programme for a healthy lifestyle that includes getting a good night’s sleep, whether this will only work if there is a shared belief amongst all of us that this is something important and necessary to help people to feel happy and healthy. Or else, how easy is it to turn around to our boss when they give us a piece of work late in the afternoon and tell us it needs to be completed by nine AM the next day and say ‘sorry, this is unrealistic. I am contracted to finish work in two hours and this piece of work will take me at least five hours to complete. Once I have gone to my one hour yoga class, cooked my fresh healthy meal, had my bath with relaxing lavender oils to help me unwind and gone to bed by ten o’clock to ensure I get eight hours sleep for optimal performance tomorrow, I simply won’t have time to do the work and therefore won’t be able to meet the deadline.’
Thinking about such a scenario it feels like a vicious cycle. So many of us accept unrealistic deadlines with work and being pushed to work beyond our contracted hours that we could argue we neglect our wellbeing in the process. We work late, eating convenience foods to save us time so we can work more, which is at the expense of sleep. The more we continue to do this, the more acceptable we make it and the more tired we become.
This leads to me to think about the quality of sleep we get. I have heard it said that alcohol induced sleep is not ‘proper sleep’ and can leave a person feeling more tired afterwards. I know that if I am feeling very busy and have lots on my mind, then I can struggle to sometimes get to sleep even if I am tired. Sleep during these periods can also feel filled with dreams. At times when I am incredibly tired, I seem to fall asleep so easily and enter into a very deep sleep where, if I have dreamt, I can’t recall the dreams. Perhaps dreams hold a clue to how calm or stressed we feel during the day. I know I’ve certainly spotted a pattern that if I’m not as relaxed and my head feels filled with the business of my day, then I wake feeling tired and being able to remember my dreams. When I’m feeling calm and less busy, then I sleep deeply, awake feeling refreshed and I don’t remember my dreams.
I can’t help but wonder that unless we all see sleep as important, many people will continue to be without sleep and feel that the amount and quality of sleep they get is out of their control.
You can view further thoughts and comments from myself and others who took part in a discussion on sleep and mental health and wellbeing at:
A discussion on dreams and mental health and wellbeing can also be found at:
Thanks to Mental Health Chat for hosting such interesting debates. Find Mental Health Chat on Twitter at @MHChat