Why Sleep is Crucial for your Mental Health
Updated: Nov 2, 2019
The deep stage of sleep is crucial for our physical bodies to rest, repair and regenerate and produce the hormones and neurotransmitters that we need for our waking hours. However the REM stage of sleep plays a big part in your mental health. REM sleep is sometimes called “paradoxical sleep” because the brainwave patterns, heart rate and blood pressure are similar to an awakened state.
The psychologist Joe Griffin published his theory linking excessive dreaming to depression in 1993, I explain the theory below.
Imagine that this basket of dirty laundry is all the ’stuff’ that you have encountered in your day, there is possibly some older stuff at the bottom of the basket that didn’t get completely sorted out when it happened too - some odd socks perhaps.
This ‘laundry’ is made up of thoughts, feelings, experiences, interactions, images. Your brain’s default setting is to 'wash' all this laundry and this mostly happens during the REM portion of your sleep cycles. Rinsing out all the high arousal emotions, discharging any ‘stains’ by means of metaphorical stories in your dreams, allowing you to experience the events but in a safe detached way. Much of the ’laundry’ can then be neatly stored in the long term ‘airing cupboard’ of your memory, some of it may be added to existing patterns that you have. This allows you, in theory, to start fresh every day.
If you are stressed the laundry basket might feel like it is permanently on the brink of spilling over. This is exhausting for the brain, it must ‘do the laundry’ as it is programmed to do to keep you safe and process all this data and keep emptying the basket. The ‘laundry’ then takes longer as the load is bigger and so the REM part of your sleep cycle increases which impacts the amount of deep restorative sleep that you get. You then wake up feeling tired - both physically and ment
This cycle of
-an overload of data to be processed
-over-dreaming REM sleep at night to relieve this overload of data
-reduced deep sleep and repair for the physical body because of increased REM sleep
-decreased motivation and physical energy in the daytime as well as more negative rumination producing more data or 'laundry' to be done
leaves us tired, stressed and feeling burnt out and can lead to depression and physical conditions such as chronic fatigue.
A brain that is tired, exhausted and flooded with stress hormones will struggle to take on new perspectives and even well-intentioned therapeutic styles of reframing. This relentless cycle needs to be interrupted so that the brain can be rested.
So how do we lighten our 'laundry basket loads' so that we can get both the processing and restorative time
in our sleep that we need?
I like to start with the breath -
I always start Hypnosis with getting my client to pay attention to their breath. It is the most simple tool we have to alert our mind and body that we are making a change, as we bring in the new and let go out what we no longer need, it is our connection to everything around us and within us. It slows us down, grounds us and reminds us of one of the most basic functions of our physical body.
The simple act of pushing air out through pursed lips alerts the nervous system to disarm and that we do not need to be in fight or flight mode.
A very stressed / burnt-out brain is fundamentally exhausted to even try and so getting the body to relax is the first priority.
Daydreaming / Mindfulness / Meditation / Journalling
Take a moment, listen to the sounds around you, the things that you can see and what you can feel.
Do you have a journey where you don’t have to drive and you can simply be the passenger, keep your phone in your bag and look out the window, you can feel your mind slowing down when you allow this to happen.
Allow your thoughts to come and go and sit with them rather than react to them, allow yourself to detach from them so that you can make the most of the moment.
Or do you like to spend some time outside? Allow yourself to notice the detail in what you see, the changing leaves on the trees, the clouds in the sky, the rhythm of your step as you walk.
Perhaps cooking is your way of relaxing or soaking in the bath.
Anywhere that you can ‘switch off’ will naturally allow a slowing down and some processing time for the mind.
Hypnosis can lighten that load by allowing the brain to ‘do its laundry’ whilst awake but in a rested state, and has the added benefit that it is directed to achieve specific results using metaphor to match the way the brain processes and learns.
You often see Rapid Eye Movement (similar to the REM in dream sleep) when the person is in hypnosis. The brain is active and processing and the body is relaxed and still, often in catalepsy (when the body is deeply relaxed and rigid, it happens during your dream sleep to stop you physically acting out your dreams and potentially harming yourself).
The swinging of a watch as a way of getting someone into trance, even the snake hypnotising Mogli in Jungle Book with her eyes are examples of stimulating this Rapid Eye Movement to get into a trance state....although not part of current Hypnotherapy practice!
We can use Hypnosis to allow the client to ‘experience’ an event they are anxious about, or behaviour that they want to change, whilst feeling relaxed. This then switches off the loop of emotional arousal in the same way that a dream might but with a more targeted direction. Hypnosis can also help to de-sensitise traumatic memories and allow them to filed away in long term memory so that future recollections of those events will be hazy and without the emotional tag.
Clients often remark on how energised they feel after a Hypnotherapy session because they have experienced both deep physical rest and mental rest through the processing of a load of 'odd socks' and 'laundry'.
Exercising, especially in the morning, is not only important for our physical health and strength and quality of sleep but can also give us processing time. Focusing inwards and working with breath with slower exercise like Yoga and Pilates, or ramping it up with cardio exercise and uptempo songs, gives us that space again to just be in the moment and not focusing on our thoughts and feelings.