As part of our ever increasing focus on a holistic approach to psychotherapy and mental health (functional psychotherapy) at Brighton and Hove Psychotherapy, I am drawn to writing a little about the importance of sleep and what happens when we don’t get enough. As I have already written, psychotherapy is a fantastic agent of change but an hour of therapy a week is simply not enough to create lasting change.
It is virtually impossible to isolate any one part of a human being and focus on creating health, or balance, in that area without taking into consideration the systemic nature of what it means to be a human being; we are our mind; our body; our brain – and each of these aspects of us is interconnected, so that it is not possible to change one without it impacting on the others. We are embodied beings – our experience of being in the world is of us being in a body, and interacting with the world and ourselves through through and with that body.
A number of articles and studies have recently caught my attention as to how important sleep is to us as human beings. However, most of these articles focus on specific aspects of our physical human experience regarding a lack of sleep – diabetes and obesity (body); the role of neuroscience in sleep – how glial cells clear our neurotoxins from the brain during sleep (brain); or how sleep can contribute to increased levels of anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and can exacerbate the impact of other mood disorders (mind).
Newton’s Third Law states that for every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction. We humans, are part of the physical world and thus bound by the laws of physics. Every thought we have creates a change in our experience of being in the world – physically as well as experientially. Our behaviours shape our thoughts and bodies and vice versa. And our bodies, or rather how we are embodied shapes our thoughts and behaviours. Add into the mix how external stimuli affects all of the above and the variables become enormous.
With the exception of some tribal folk, most of us live in ways that disrupt our circadian rhythms – our natural sleep patterns. The systemic effect of this is enormous, to the extent that scientists suggest that the vast majority of us are living permanently with mild jet-lag. There are physical, emotional and psychological implications to this and, as I have already suggested, they are all three inextricably linked. And yet quality sleep it is one the most influential ways we can radically improve our overall wellbeing – including psychologically.
Why should this matter to psychotherapy, to our clients? Well, effective psychotherapy is about change and psychological and emotional change does not simply happen without work – much like healthy crops don’t just magically start growing in a well-ploughed field. Simple changes to sleep patterns can have a dramatic effect – both short- and long-term – on laying those foundations for getting curious about how we process and carry loss and trauma and improve our psychological and emotional wellbeing.
Without enough sleep, we are running on empty. Our body, brain and mind are simply surviving and crucially, we lose the ability to be a witness to our experience: we become reactive and identify with our emotional experiences, without being able to get curious about them and play with changing the variables such as how our thoughts, behaviours, feelings, bodily sensations and external stimuli all contribute to our experience in that moment. Like crops require a well-ploughed field and adequate water, sunlight and nutrients, the effectiveness of psychotherapy depends on a solid foundation on which to build our sense of self. Psychotherapy certainly helps create this foundation, but quality sleep is one of the core essentials where you can really help yourself out and as such should be considered a daily practice to be mindful of.
So how can we get more sleep? Check out our next blog for our top five sleep tips that will cost you nothing to implement and will make a big difference!
Image credit: Mark Vahrmeyer