Why Sleep is Essential to Better Brain Health and Mental Wellbeing

 

Missing out on a good night’s sleep can cost us far more than an even temper and difficulty concentrating. Sleep is essential to our mental health.

Sacrificing sleep to watch that last episode in the Netflix series you’ve been enjoying, or to complete an assignment that has to be handed in by the morning means your brain misses out on the time required to regulate emotions and stabilise mood. In addition to the increased difficulty experienced next day in solving problems and making decisions, it may feel harder to cope with our daily challenges. Thinking patterns become stuck in the negative and we become more emotionally labile.

How much sleep an individual requires varies, but on average 7-8 hours works for most. But with busy lives and extra demands it’s easy to rack up a sleep debt we may not even be aware of, because the first thing that goes when we become sleep deprived is the recognition that we are tired.

The link between mental ill health and poor sleep is an example of the classic chicken and egg scenario. Is poor sleep the catalyst leading to mental ill health, or does mental ill health interfere with our sleep?  

It’s been estimated that between 60-90% of people with diagnosed depression have insomnia and it’s well-recognised how poor sleep adds to symptoms of worry, anxiety or feeling down. This article by Harvard Health provides a great explanation of the benefits of sleep and the relationship with mental health issues.

Whether at work or studying, sleep is critical to better thinking and performance, which is why a workplace culture that values sleep matters.

Should you be paid to sleep?

American Company Aetna has a reward scheme in place as part of its wellness strategy that pays staff up to US$300 a year for getting at least 7 hours sleep per night.

Extreme?

Perhaps, but also an acknowledgement of the recognition sleep deprivation plays in relation to cognitive performance and mental wellbeing.

According to a report by Deloittes the economic cost of lack of sleep in 2010 was around $4.3billion. This included $3.1 billion in lost productivity.

But it is the human cost that is terrible. Sleep disorders on their own contribute to 190,000 DALYS lost that translates into a loss of wellbeing valued at somewhere between $23.5 billion and $36.8 billion.

In August 2015 Australian economists Allan Fels and Ross Garnaut called on the federal government to embrace mental health as its next big reform agenda citing how mental health now costs the economy $60 billion a year. With one in five adult Australians at risk of an episode of mental illness in any given year, reducing that risk by including a workplace strategy that reduces cognitive fatigue doesn’t sound so crazy anymore.

Where else could this strategy be applied?

Encouraging a workplace culture that values sleep doesn’t have to rely on payments.

In the tertiary system, choosing to discourage students pulling “all nighters” or late night cramming can be achieved through education and increased awareness of healthy brain and sleep habits.

Elsewhere, shifting cultural expectations around contactabilty outside normal working hours, and having access to sufficient down time between shifts can also help.

While introducing nap rooms and flexitime have been introduced in some organisations, this doesn’t go far enough in addressing the need for every workplace to address entrenched attitudes that see sleep as a bit of a nuisance and something that gets in the way of getting more done.

It will be those companies that place a high value of sleep who will benefit from a workforce that enjoys better brain health and mental wellbeing with enhanced productivity and performance.

Are you getting enough sleep?

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