Speaking Mental Health
Forward Times Mental Health Advisors
As is common practice in the mental health field, at the first session with my clients, I conduct what’s called a biopsychosocial assessment. You guessed it correctly; it’s basically an interview which covers biological, psychological, and social factors unique to the individual that may be contributing to their presenting mental health challenges. Depending on the client’s life story revealed through the biopsychosocial, some areas warrant further probing while other areas don’t need as much attention. There is one particular issue that seems to be fairly consistent among those I see in private practice: lack of sleep. Though the relationship between sleep and mental health is well documented, many people don’t make the connection in their own lives. I learned this lesson the hard way.
I entered the US Navy shortly after graduating high school. While I had been informed of the rigors of basic training in the military from my recruiter and others who went in before me, my firsthand experience told a different story. I was prepared, as much as I could be, for the aggressive approach that the recruit division commanders would take to “break me in,” and all of the physical training I would have to undergo to make certain I was ready for “the fleet,” but what I never considered was the little time that would be left for rest and recovery. The last activity that the seaman recruit must pass to become an official sailor is called “Battle Stations.” While I’ve been sworn to secrecy concerning the lengths and depths of US Navy “boot camp”, Battle Stations is the ultimate test because it requires a battery of endurance tests and exercises to be completed over an exceedingly long period of time after a very brief period of sleep. The aim of Battle Stations, in addition to completing US Navy Basic Training and proving seaworthiness, is to demonstrate the resilience of the human body.
While the body certainly can survive for a period of time with little-to-no sleep, which I know for a fact, the body was not designed to thrive without adequate rest. Yes, the body can perform well, even in some of the most difficult conditions; however, when the mind begins to malfunction due to a lack of sleep, the body shuts down. Recommendations for proper sleep hygiene typically range from 7 to 9 hours of sleep per day for children and adults. Healthy sleep habits allow the mind to operate optimally, and the body follows suit. The opposite is also true, however. If you’ve ever wondered why “good rest” is recommended the night before the big test, the interview, the major event, etc., now you know it’s because it gives you the best chance at success.
Strategies I share with my many clients in therapy who are sleep deprived include playing soft music before bed and while sleeping, turning off electronic devices at least 30 minutes before preparing to go to sleep, and utilizing a deep breathing routine to assist with relaxation. Some clients have reported using essential oils, aromas, and melatonin as part of their sleep routines also. Personally, I’ve added journaling to my night routine on those days when my mind has been a bit more active in an effort to calm my conscious mental activity; too much mental stimulation will oust rest on any given night. If you find yourself struggling to think, focus, and follow through with plans consistently, take a closer look at your sleep habits, as they can have harsh effects on not just your physical health, but your mental health as well. The best laid plans for your day are those that have sleep in mind.
Michael Dangerfield, LPC, NCC