Thursday, 25 July 2013

Sleep, glorious sleep!

For many years now I have understood the importance of sleep in maintaining good mental health.  A good night's sleep has certainly been imperative to my own functioning, and from everything I have read and experienced over the years I know how important it is to my children too.

I curse the modern trend for sleepovers - I let my kids attend them, because I don't want them to miss out on the fun and the companionship, but I hate the fact that for children a good deal of the excitement of 'sleepovers' lies in the not sleeping element.  I always make sure that the day after, they get to bed extra early, and I never agree to two sleepovers in a row.

I would never voluntarily stay up all night myself.  Until recently, on the odd occasion when I didn't sleep well, or didn't sleep at all, I used to be close to panic the next day.  Over the last couple of years though, I have relaxed a little about this.  Last year on a two week holiday in the South of France I hardly slept a wink, due to the heat, and I survived mentally intact. 

I gave up gluten some time ago, partly because I've had stomach problems for many years (diagnosed as IBS) and partly because of the possible link between gluten and mental illness (the Beyond Meds blog is very good on this subject).  On the same French holiday I started eating gluten again too, and my stomach was fine - I guess the relaxation of being away helped (and I did relax, although we were self-catering, I decided that I was as much on holiday as the rest of the family and I pushed myself nowhere near as hard as usual). 

I don't like to be controlled in any way - and avoiding gluten totally was starting to feel oppressive.  So now I eat all foods again, although in moderation.  And as for the sleeping - I still make sure I have a regular routine.  However, I was surprised to find that about a month ago, when I started getting up at least an hour earlier in the morning (which meant that I slept for at least an hour less each night) I felt much better physically and mentally. 

Perhaps I had fallen into the habit of having too much sleep - I don't know for sure.  But I find now, if I get up as soon as I wake, no matter how early (I don't have a clock by the bed, so I can't groan and roll over if it's not yet 6am) I feel much fresher, more wide awake and positive throughout the day.  Who would have thought it?

I have always been a reluctant riser - or perhaps not always, but from a very early age, probably as a teenager, I started to sleep in late whenever possible.  I think this may have been due to the example of my mother, who would lie in bed until the last possible moment each day (she still does).  Or it may have been due to a creeping depression, which I didn't even know I had, but which would not have been surprising in the circumstances. 

I think a large part of my recovery has been due to the fact that as a mother I need to be up and about early every day with the children.  I have long since realised that keeping busy in this way has done me a lot of good - I was never lazy, but I lacked discipline and structure in my life and now I have that in spades, and I do my best to instil in it my children.  Paul sets an excellent example - he is up and out to work each morning, even if he feels unwell. 

Anyway, I just wanted to write about this because I just read an article about sleep in the Guardian, and it seemed very relevant.  I don't think my mental health problems can be attributed to any one thing - it is all part of a very big picture with many contributing factors, and that is probably why I had such major breakdowns.  But it is interesting to learn about how circadian rhythm affects mental health - I see this information as another weapon in my armoury to ensure that my own children never succumb. 

Here's a link to the article:


  1. There have been studies linking sleep deprivation to psychosis since the sixties and seventies but when I talked to my son's psychiatrists about those studies, they looked blankly at me: they hadn't heard about them. I think, that anxiety and stress play a big role too in the generation of psychosis. It is the combination of these elements that bring people down and get them out of touch with reality.

  2. Absolutely - psychosis never happens without a cause. But why don't so many psychiatrists seem to understand the causes of mental illness? Perhaps they think the causes are irrelevant, since they have already decided that the only proper treatment is medication. I really think that training for these medical professionals needs overhauling - I'd love to teach them a thing or two!