It’s Mental Health Awareness month in America, and while South Africa and countries like Australia only observe Mental Health Awareness month in October, I strongly believe that we should be advocating for and raising awareness around mental illness every single month. 

One issue that vastly impacts our mental health and doesn’t get spoken about near often enough is our relationship with sleep. According to Kendra Cherry, author and educational consultant of psychology, lack of sleep can trigger the onset of certain psychological conditions. While the relationship between sleep and mental health is a complex one, there is no denying the connection between the two.

Some Mental Health Conditions Triggered By Sleep Deprivation

  • Stress: I’m sure we can all relate to feeling increasingly irritable after a night of tossing and turning. Lack of sleep can completely change how we perceive and or deal with stressful situations, even if the stress is minor.  
  • Depression: “One analysis of 21 different studies found that people who experience insomnia have a two-fold risk of developing depression over those who do not have problems sleeping.” – Kendra Cherry
  • Anxiety: The relationship between anxiety and sleep is interchangeable. Those who struggle with anxiety tend to experience more sleep disturbances; however, sleep deprivation also contributes to feelings of anxiety. In full transparency that’s where I currently find myself. Living between fight or flight, oscillating between anxiety and sleeplessness. If not dealt with accordingly, the cycle between sleep and anxiety can seem never-ending.
  • Bipolar Disorder: People living with Bipolar Disorder are no strangers to frequently experiencing bouts of; insomnia, irregular sleep-wake cycles, and nightmares. Research also shows that sleep disruption is often a precursor/symptom of the onset or state of a manic or hypomanic episode. 

Studies have also shown that one in fourteen South Africans over the age of 15 years old experiences some form of sleep disruption. And while the causes are varied there are ways that our lifestyle choices contribute to our country’s state of sleep deprivation. South Africa is not alone in this struggle that was intensely heightened by COVID-19. It’s not all doom and gloom my friends! There are different natural paths and lifestyle practices that we can implement to help us overcome various sleep challenges caused by our continuous and growing relationship with screens. The easy access to all manner of mind-numbing distractions on our phones and overconsumption of toxic social media narratives do not help out the current plight. 

Lifestyle Hacks and Natural Remedies 

  1. Limit napping: Okay, I have another confession. One of my all-time favourite adulting hobbies is napping. Yes, I know that napping can also disrupt my sleep cycle, however experts do say that naps of up to 20 to 30 minutes a day can help one feel more alert and rested without disrupting your sleep cycle.
  2. Establish a nightly routine: Create a set of habits that help prepare your body, mind, and spirit for a night of quality sleep. I personally recommend long candlelit essential oil-infused bubble baths accompanied by a book, chilled music, or podcast. A few minutes of meditation, breathing exercises, lighting a lavender scented candle, or drinking herbal teas are also come highly recommended practices. 
  3. Avoid caffeine or stimulants too close to bedtime: That mid-afternoon slump that seemingly calls for a caffeinated pick me up could be contributing to issues with your sleep cycle. Research has shown a correlation between consuming coffee, soft drinks, or other caffeinated products such as tea in the mid to late afternoon or evening can impact your nighttime sleep.
  4. Turn off your devices: This is major! Putting down your phones and switching off any other screen-related device at least 1 hour before bed is crucial. Watching television or playing on your phones at bedtime can make it more difficult to relax and settle down for sleep. See how screens affect or sleep cycles in a previous post titled ‘Doomscrolling? Stream Binging? Sacrificing Sleep to Catch Up on ‘Me Time’? here.
  5. Repeat these routines each night so that they become a habit and the quality of your sleep and life will drastically improve

As I reflect on my tumultuous relationship (or lack thereof) with sleep throughout my teens and twenties, I wish I would’ve known how detrimental my view of sleep as a disturbance and thief of a good time was to my overall health, and output and quality of life. The irony of my young and oh so naive thought process around sleep is not lost on me. Truth is there are many of us living out similar ironies camouflaged as hustle. 

“When you think about true productivity, there’s one thing you need, BALANCE.”

Kevin O’Leary

Kevin O’Leary of Shark Tank fame, recently told the hosts of The Breakfast Club “the life of a workaholic leads to one thing, burnout. I’ve seen this time and time again and that’s why I love asking entrepreneurs the question ‘What else do you do?’” May the sentiment of this question reverberate through our minds each time we find ourselves on the lifestyle wheel of team hustle and no sleep.