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Sleep and mental health

The Most Powerful Drug for Mental Health

Sleep and mental health

After 24 hours without sleep, humans begin to experience drowsiness, irritability, decreased alertness, impaired concentration, fatigue, sadness, and increased risk of accidents, among many others. After 36 hours, our memory becomes impaired, our reaction time is slowed, and our immune function decreases. After 48 hours, we have heightened levels of anxiety, stress, fatigue, and depersonalization. When humans remain awake beyond 72 hours, we begin to hallucinate and experience delusions. Longer, and we fall into sleep deprivation psychosis. While this paints a picture of acute sleep deprivation, the landscape of chronic sleep deprivation is similar in terms of consequences. With chronic sleep deprivation, we can be dealing with any number of the above consequences on a daily basis, and it can take more than one good night of sleep to counter a chronic sleep debt.


Aside from food and water, sleep is one of the most essential components to the optimal function of the human organism. The long-term impacts of sleep deprivation can be seen across the spectrum of human experience, resulting in:

  • Increased rates of diabetes and obesity

  • Increased rates of cancer and cardiovascular disease

Sleep studies
  • Depression and anxiety

  • Worsening of pre-existing mental health conditions

  • Increased incidence of autoimmune disorder

  • More accidents

  • Increased incidence of anger and violence

  • Poor physical performance and recovery

Recent reports indicate that 1 in 3 adults in Canada regularly do not get enough sleep. Likewise, 1 in 3 Canadians will experience mental health issues throughout their lifetime, and even more will have to contend with other health complications correlated with sleep deprivation.

Enough with the bad news. The good news is that we are not broken, and there are solutions! We have been impacted by relatively new lifestyle and dietary factors which can negatively impact our sleep duration and sleep quality, but these factors are often within some degree of our control. We can make efforts toward positive changes and take back our sleep, and in so doing, take back our lives and our health, mental and physical.


Keep in mind that it is important to take on only what we feel able to do. If you are struggling with sleep, then chances are you are also dealing with the consequences of sleep deprivation, which can have a way of trapping us in the cycle of unhelpful habits. It can be difficult to make changes when you are struggling, so make sure to be kind to yourself and develop the following lifestyle changes gradually, at your own pace. Pick one or two things you want to change and go from there.


Lifestyle Adaptations

Reading for rest
  • A stimulated brain is an awake brain. Set aside at least an hour before bed every night where you do not actively use your devices or watch TV. Avoid stressful conversations and other stimulating social activities. Instead, consider journaling, meditation, yin yoga/stretching, and other calming activities.

  • Humans have evolved outdoors, rising with the sun and sleeping when the sun sets. Our circadian rhythm, our internal clock, is set by when and how we see different spectrums of light. Upon waking, try to expose yourself to at least 10 minutes of bright light, either outside or with a bright light device. At least an hour before bed, use soft and dim light, preferably incandescent or red/amber light. If you must use your devices, try to use blue-and-green blocking glasses, as the spectrums of light shed by our screens include wavelengths that suppress hormones necessary for sleep.

Healthy excercize
  • Movement is another component which helps to set our internal clock. As close to waking as possible, try to get some movement in. A walk outside, some light exercise, or some active stretching would do the trick. Going outside, so long as the sun is up, can help you combine this step with the previous one. If you can, try to move more throughout the day in general. If you are sedentary, this can be as simple as getting up and walking around for a few minutes every hour.

  • Sleep in a dark, cool room. Use blackout curtains on your windows and cover any device lights with electrical tape, or alternatively use a sleep mask to block out light. Even small amounts of light can disrupt our melatonin production, a hormone necessary for quality sleep.

  • Sleep in a dark, cool room. Use blackout curtains on your windows and cover any device lights with electrical tape, or alternatively use a sleep mask to block out light. Even small amounts of light can disrupt our melatonin production, a hormone necessary for quality sleep.

  • Use a white noise device or app to help block out the small sounds that wake us during the night.

  • Avoid exercise within 4 hours of going to bed, and avoid eating within 3 hours of bedtime.

  • Don't consume caffeine after 2pm. If you have serious sleep issues, try avoiding caffeine altogether as it can stay in our systems quite a long time.

healthy diet
  • Use bird sounds as an alarm, or even better, use a dawn light alarm clock if not wearing a sleep mask.

  • Reduce or eliminate processed and high glycemic foods from your diet. Reactive hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) resulting from these foods can cause adrenaline to wake you during the night.

  • Consume adequate protein (at least a palm sized portion) with dinner.

  • Use bird sounds as an alarm, or even better, use a dawn light alarm clock if not wearing a sleep mask.



While lifestyle factors have a huge impact on our sleep, mental health issues themselves can also affect our sleep quality. If you are struggling and want some help, we’re here for you! You can learn more about us and what we do here or you can book a session directly by clicking on the button below.





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