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We know a good night’s sleep is good for our physical health, but did you know it’s just as important for our mental health? Sleep problems — whether it’s not getting enough sleep or not getting quality sleep — can negatively impact our overall health. Quality sleep helps improve our mood, increase productivity and, in general, is associated with a greater satisfaction in life. There is also a growing body of evidence highlighting the link between sleep and happiness.

How sleep boosts well-being

Sleep is food for our brains. According to healthypeople.gov, when you sleep, your body is working to repair cells and restore the energy your body and brain need to function. Physically, sleep is helping your body repair tired muscles and conserve needed energy. Neurologically, sleep is working to restore brain functions like memory, creativity, problem solving skills and focus.

Not only that but sleep also helps restore our emotional stability. In fact, poor sleep interferes with our abilities to process emotions and manage impulses. An article from Psychology Today says, “For many, this means that after a night (or several) of poor sleep, they’re crankier, quicker to anger, more sensitive to perceived slights, and may respond more impulsively to daily annoyances that they would normally take in stride.” 

What happens when we don’t get our ZZZs?

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that not getting enough sleep can impact our overall health and increase our risk for chronic diseases and conditions like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity and mood disorders like depression. People who don’t get enough sleep often experience poorer judgment, slower thinking, irritability, mood changes and a decline in work productivity.

Inadequate sleep, especially over a long period of time, can lead or contribute to mood disorders. Chronic sleep problems have been linked to depression, anxiety and mental distress. According to the National Institutes of Health, “one study reported that participants who slept only 4.5 hours per night were more stressed, sad, angry, and mentally exhausted than a comparison group with longer sleep.”

While the link between poor sleep and mood disorders is apparent, experts aren’t always as clear on the cause. In other words, does inadequate sleep cause mood disorders? Or do mood disorders create sleep issues? Research is ongoing, but for most people with mental health concerns, addressing any sleep-related problems is often a great place to start.

Common sleep disorders

If you’re struggling with poor sleep, you’re not alone. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that one-third of all U.S. adults say they usually get less than the recommended 7 hours or more of sleep. While poor sleep can sometimes be associated with specific life events — ask any new parent — there could also be an underlying reason for your struggles, including a sleep disorder. Some of the most common sleep disorders include:

  • Insomnia: An inability to fall asleep or stay asleep that can result in functional impairment throughout the day.
  • Sleep apnea: Interrupted sleep caused by periodic gasping or momentary suspension of breathing. People who have sleep apnea often wear a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) device. This kind of therapy uses a machine to help them breathe more easily while sleeping.
  • Restless leg syndrome (RLS): An unpleasant creeping sensation associated with aches and pains throughout the legs that makes it difficult to sleep.

7 tips to improve sleep quality and boost your mental well-being

If you’re experiencing sleep problems, it’s important you share your concerns with your primary care provider. There may be medical reasons, like sleep apnea and RLS, that should be managed by your health care provider. There are also steps you can take to help improve your sleep quality. Our Better You Strides* wellness team offers these tips to help you get a good night’s sleep.

Tip 1: Relax

Sometimes, relaxing is easier said than done, but there is no better place to start than with your breathing. It’s a convenient, quick and effective way to encourage your brain and body to relax. Focused breathing brings attention to your breathing, allowing you to use it to calm yourself down. Try this deep breathing exercise to help you relax.

Tip 2: Keep a regular sleep cycle

This means going to bed and waking up at the same time. Don’t use the weekend to catch up on sleep. Try to find a period where you can experiment and find the sleep and wake cycle that works for you. Go to bed at the same time and allow yourself to wake up naturally — no alarm clocks. If you are sleep deprived, it may take a few weeks to fully recover. As you go to bed and wake up at the same time, you will land on the sleep schedule that works for you.

Tip 3: Get your exercise

Exercise has so many benefits, one being that it improves your sleep quality. Exercising most days of the week will boost your sleep health. Try to avoid strenuous activity about three hours before bedtime. But don’t worry, that walk after dinner doesn’t count as strenuous!

Tip 4: Decrease your caffeine consumption

Caffeine is found in some of our favorite things like soda, tea and coffee. But avoiding it after about noon can help improve your sleep quality at night. A good rule of thumb is to avoid any caffeine about six hours before bedtime as it can interrupt your sleep patterns.

Tip 5: Avoid alcohol, nicotine and eating before bedtime

Caffeine isn’t the only thing that can lead to a poor night’s sleep. Avoid these three additional triggers before bedtime:

  • Although alcohol is a depressant and creates a sedating effect, it actually causes you to wake up more throughout the night. Skipping the nightcap may be your best bet to a better night’s sleep.
  • The nicotine found in tobacco products is considered a stimulant. And like caffeine, using it too close to bedtime may make it harder to sleep.
  • Avoid big meals close to bedtime, as it can keep you from falling asleep. You don’t want your body focused on digestion when you should be trying to sleep, repair and restore.

Tip 6: Clear your mind

Establishing a relaxing bedtime routine, such as taking a warm bath or dimming the lights, can help you unwind and clear your mind before bed. Melatonin is the sleep hormone and it’s part of what’s called the sleep-wake cycle. Evening darkness increases the amount of melatonin in our body and helps you transition to sleep. Here are a few ways to boost your melatonin production at night:

  • Turn off your television and computer. Light suppresses melatonin production, and the light from electronics can stimulate your mind instead of relaxing it.
  • Don’t read from a backlit device at night, like a tablet or smartphone. Instead, listen to music, an audio book or practice relaxation exercises like meditation.
  • Change your bedside lamp light to a low-wattage bulb.

If you tend to overthink or worry a lot a night, try writing down what’s on your mind. You can do this by journaling or doing a brain dump, which literally just means dumping everything that’s on your mind onto paper. Sometimes getting thoughts out of our heads and onto paper can ease our minds.  

Tip 7: Create an ideal sleep environment

Sometimes where we sleep is just as important as how we sleep. And while we can’t always control every sleep scenario we may encounter, there are plenty of ways to set ourselves up for sleep success.

  • Remove all electronics from the bedroom including cell phones, laptops, tablets, TVs, etc.
  • If you must have electronics in the bedroom, set a media curfew where you stop using them. If you use your phone for an alarm, try to keep it on Do Not Disturb at night.
  • Make your bedroom an inviting place to sleep.
    • Get blackout curtains or a sleep mask to keep out bright light.
    • Get a white noise machine or listen to a relaxation app to help you fall asleep and stay asleep.
    • Make sure your bedroom is not too cold or too hot.
    • Invest in a good mattress, as well as comfortable pillows and sheets.
    • If you need to get up to go to the bathroom, use a flashlight or nightlight so light is kept to a minimum.
    • Keep pets out of the bedroom.

Tools available to help members

We have tools that can help you take small steps on your journey to better sleep. Our meQuilibrium (meQ) digital mental well-being program is a great place to start. It offers articles, activities, videos and skill-building exercises to help you, including:

  • A sleep diary activity
  • Deep Sleep Meditation activity
  • The Sleep More Soundly skill
  • Break the Sleep-Stress Cycle Cup of Calm webcast
  • The Myth of Work/Life Balance webcast


meQ is available at no extra cost to members of fully insured Florida Blue and Florida Blue Medicare health plans.**

Florida Blue members eligible for our care programs can also reach out to their care manager for additional support and guidance on getting better sleep. The BlueForMe app allows you to connect to your support team through your smart device whenever you need support.

 

 

*The Better You Strides program is available to Florida Blue members age 18 and older. Eligibility is limited to members with an individual/family individual ACA plan and members with coverage from their fully insured group employer health plan. If you have Florida Blue coverage through your job, ask your benefits administrator if you qualify. Rewards subject to the reward program's terms and conditions.

**meQuilibrium is an independent company contracted by Florida Blue to provide health and wellness services and resources to members. This benefit is available to Florida Blue members age 18 and older. Eligibility is limited to members with an individual or family plan, an individual or family ACA plan and members with coverage from their fully insured group employer health plan.

 

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