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Insomnia, or lack of sleep, is a common problem that the NHS say affects about 1 in 3 people in the UK. It is not just the UK either, with Harvard Medical School saying “Americans are notoriously sleep deprived.”

If you find it difficult to fall asleep, lie awake for long periods at night, wake up several times during the night or feel tired and irritable during the day and have difficulty concentrating you could be suffering from insomnia, and it could impact both your physical and mental health.

When the body doesn’t get the deep sleep it needs to recharge and rebuild, the immune system can suffer.

In simple terms, the more sleepless nights you have, the more likely you are to decrease your body’s ability to respond to colds or bacterial infections. Studies have also shown that getting adequate sleep is associated with a stronger heart and slimmer waistlines.

It’s not just physical health…

The UK mental health charity, Mind, says that there is a close relationship between sleep and mental health. Living with a mental health problem can affect how well you sleep, and poor sleep can have a negative impact on your mental health.

Harvard Medical School reports that: “Chronic sleep problems affect 50% to 80% of patients in a typical psychiatric practice, compared with 10% to 18% of adults in the general U.S. population. Sleep problems are particularly common in patients with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).”

The relationship between sleep and mental health is not completely understood, but studies suggest that a good night’s sleep can help to build both mental and emotional resilience. By comparison, chronic sleep disruptions can lead to negative thinking and emotional vulnerability.

The link between physical and mental health

“I think we have to be quite radical,” says Prof Ed Bullmore, the head of psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, talking about whether the immune system could be causing depression.

Scientists believe it could be our own immune systems causing inflammation in the body and altering mood.

Prof Bullmore said: “Depression and inflammation often go hand in hand, if you have flu, the immune system reacts to that, you become inflamed and very often people find that their mood changes too.”

“Their behaviour changes, they may become less sociable, more sleepy, more withdrawn.”

“They may begin to have some of the negative ways of thinking that are characteristic of depression and all of that follows an infection.”

This subtle, yet significant shift in scientific thinking ties in with a philosophy I’ve personally held for a number of years now… that ALL symptoms of disease, both physical and mental, are related.

Once again, the answer may come down to 3 things…

Attitude, Intake and Movement

The most common sleep problem, insomnia, may be overcome with some simple lifestyle changes.

Attitude: Making time to relax, practicing meditation, visualisation and deep breathing exercises may all help to calm the mind and prepare the body for rest.

Intake: Caffeine, alcohol and nicotine can all having a negative impact on sleep. Alcohol initially depresses the nervous system, which helps some people fall asleep, but the effects normally wear off in a few hours and people wake up. Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants and typically increase the heart rate, making the body more alert. If you are having problems sleeping them avoiding intake of these substances is advised.

Movement: Regular aerobic activity has been shown to help people fall asleep faster, spend more time in deep sleep, and awaken less often during the night.

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