Today, January 25th, is Bell Canada's "Let's Talk" day. A day to talk to friends, family, strangers, about mental health and things that are both going wrong and going right. Here and now, I open myself up to any and all conversations regarding mental health. If you have anything that you want to say, feel free to leave a comment, send a note, or track me down somewhere else and send me a message there. I'm more than happy to be a listening ear.
So, Let's Talk.
Personally, I have struggled with mental health for a long time. Depression's probably been my longest battle, but I've worked through that (at least, I hope I have). My most notable battle, however, is one with sleep.
In the middle of 2014, I stopped sleeping. (I won't go into direct detail about the year, for more details, visit my previous journal entry.) Over the next 4 months, I descended into an anxious, forgetful, psychotic state. I was anxious constantly with plenty of anxiety attacks. I couldn't remember the time despite just looking at my watch, let alone due dates, the current date, or what the last lecture at uni was about. At (roughly) the four month mark, I got put on sleeping pills that worked (finally!) and took myself to the hospital psych ward for an overnight stay and got myself onto some antipsychotics. (I had been in constant contact with mental health and my GP during those first 4 months to no end.) The psych ward visit finally got me appointments with a regular psychiatrist. 12 of them. She ensured my dosing was good and that things seemed to be working, then sent me on my way.
It took several more months to be seen by another psychiatrist who immediately recognized that the antipsychotics I was on were the wrong ones for me. He changed them to somehing else and, for me, it was like walking out of a well. I was reconnecting. I hadn't even known I was disconnected.
The following photo was taken about 6 months into taking the medication. My aunt was doing photos at my cousin's wedding. She cornered me, lined me up in the right light, and told me to "smile." So I did. I remember that, very clearly. I smiled.
Clearly, I did not. Inside, the whole time I was on that medication, I was my normal happy, helpful, positive, engaging self. Outside, I was not. I'd been told multiple times through out the year that I was "like a zombie" and "cold" and "uncaring." I just couldn't believe it.
In the appointments that followed my medication change, my new psychiartist also realized that my sleeping pills should no longer be effective, based on their dosing and their effectiveness over time requiring regular dose increases.
A couple months later, when my life was stable, I weaned myself off the sleeping pills and then, a couple months after, the antipsychotics. What followed was the best sleep I'd had since puberty. The other thing that followed was a confirmed diagnosis of "hormonal insomnia."
I do not wait well, and whatever can be said of the problems I faced, I didn't idly wait for doctor's answers. I did research; I did a LOT of research. In fact, I'm still doing research. Short term and long term effects of insomnia are scary.
Short term mild to moderate insomnia you can face issues related to memory and processing. You can also face increased anxiety and depression. (Depression can also be a cause of insomnia.)
For severe insomnia (0-2hours of sleep for several days in a row), you are likely to face anxiety, depression, issues with memory and processing, and hallucinations.
For long term severe insomnia (in the "months" range), you start to descend into something akin to dementia and lose the ability to fully function. If you don't sleep for long enough (in the 7+ month range), it's very possible that you could die. (There is a genetic disorder that causes this: Fatal Familial Insomnia. It is exceedingly rare.)
The cumulative effect of insomnia (whatever the cause, including mild to moderate insomnia) includes an increased incidence of mental illness (depression, anxiety, bi-polar, schizophrenia, etc), increased likelihood of dementia, increased likelihood of early onset dementia, and increased likelihood of other physical illnesses.
The reasons for this are still not fully known, though it is known that there are certain processes that your brain only completes during sleep and there are certain hormones and chemicals that are only released during sleep. (The growth hormone is one such, which is why sleep is so essential for children and why they may need more sleep during a growth spurt.)
On the flip side, oversleeping can also have negative effects, including increasing incidences of mental illness (depression, anxiety, etc), though having one such mental illness may be a cause of oversleeping rather than a result of.
The doctor's recommended 6-9 hours really is how much sleep you should be getting, not just for your physical health, but for your mental health as well.
A few notes:
- If you experience difficulty waking despite getting the recommended hours of sleep, try setting your alarm ~20 minutes earlier or later. It's possible that it's going off in the middle of your sleep cycle and changing when you fall asleep or wake by a short period could help you wake up easier.
- Try to be consistent ("cheat nights" allowed) with when you go to bed and wake up. The more consistent you are, the less likely you are to have issues with sleep.
- Bright screens (like your laptop, TV, and phone) stimulate your eyes and brain and can hinder your ability to fall asleep. Try to limit screen time an hour before going to bed. If you simply must use a screen, try to get a bluelight, twilight, or f.lux app to adjust the light of your screen and reduce it's negative effect.
- If you use an ereader (or are in the market for one), look for one that uses eink as opposed to a standard backlit screen. (The kindle fire is a standard screen, but the kobo touch is eink.) The eink functions identically to a page of a book with a single refresh per page turn or button click. Standard screens have a constant refresh, which is what stimulates. (Yes, this does require an outside light source. I'm partial to a head lamp.)
- If you simply cannot fall asleep, try meditation. (I attribute meditation as the reason why I didn't go further into psychosis faster.) There are myriads of apps and youtube videos and tapes and videos that offer guided meditation. There are also methods of meditation out there like focused breathing (also good for breath control in sports and panic situations), and tensing/relaxing muscles from toes to head. I'm partial to reading a book I have memorized.
- Another method that's popular for helping people sleep is ASMR videos. There are plenty of different sounds available, but you might find one works for you. They work on a similar principle to white noise. White noise machines are also available and come in sounds varying from a fuzz (static) to rainforest or rain or rivers. A fan also works for white noise.
At the end of all that (much longer than I meant it to be), I just want to reiterate that sleep is important, both for tomorrow and for 20 years down the line.
And, Let's talk mental health.