Sleep and Your Mental Health

Posted by: | September 19, 2011


This time last year, I was feeling really horrible and that is honestly a grave understatement.  For my 30th birthday, I had been given an interesting present: I developed some form of lung infection.  The lung issue meant that I was up all night long coughing because I couldn’t clear my lungs.  As part of the illness, I ended up pulling my ribs from their cartilage from the incessant coughing (first on my left side, then onmy right side).  It was terrifically painful. As a result, I ended up with an inhaler and a bottle of Tylenol 3’s with codeine as my bedside companions.  During the daytime, no one wanted to be around me, for fear of catching the disease.  So add pain onto misery and a dose of social isolation. As I said, horrible is an understatement.

So for my 30th birthday, I was given a whole lot more than a lung infection.  In particular, the illness gave me a lot of perspective about mental health and its relationship to physical health.  I was exhausted from lack of sleep and in constant pain from my ribs, and all of my coping mechanisms (many of them physical activity related) were useless.  I felt like I was losing my mind- I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t enjoy life, I couldn’t think clearly and I was easily moved to tears.

All of these are red flags for someone struggling with mental health issues- I would know, I share those checklists all the time as part of my work.

As a result of the illness, I have learned new coping skills (e.g. I began an art project), and I understand greatly that when I am in pain, unable to be physically active and not sleeping well, then I will feel like… well, horrible, for lack of a better, polite term.

 Recently, I have come across a few friends who, due to physical injuries, have struggled to sleep properly and now are struggling with thriving mentally.  Horrible doesn’t even describe how they’re feeling.  A lack of restful sleep can easily make the best of us dysfunctional as human beings, let alone as partners, parents, friends, and employees.  That dysfunction then lends  us easily to thinking poorly about ourselves. In fact, more studies have started to see links between mental illness and sleep deprivation.

So with that in mind, I wanted to share some tips on good sleeping sleep is as important to thriving at UBC as food and physical activity:

Ten Tips for a Great Night’s Sleep

Do you have child who just won’t go to sleep? Consider sharing this information for kids about sleep. (I actually think it’s “news” to adults too!)

It’s much debated on how many hours of sleep we need, so consider this article from Time Magazine.

If you’re not aware, we have some amazing colleagues at UBC working on sleeping disorders: UBC Sleep Disorders Program.  If you’re really struggling with sleep, then it’s time to talk to your doctor (and he/she can refer you to the program, if deemed necessary).

With all that in mind, I am happy to have gotten to where I am now- a better place, but sometimes going through all of that misery was difficult. I hope you all look out for yourselves, and give yourself a good night’s sleep.

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Food of the Month

Oranges Every month, the Healthy UBC Blog highlights a locally available food, and gives you a recipe or two to try out.  This month, read all about mandarin oranges, rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, fibre and folate.

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