THIS Friday, March 15, marks World Sleep Day - a global campaign highlighting the importance of sleep for our physical and mental health.

While we spend roughly a third of our lives asleep, it’s often the first thing sacrificed in our busy schedules. However, prioritising sleep isn’t a luxury - it’s a necessity for a healthy mind and body. Look at any other mammal you can think of, they all prioritise their sleep, something we as humans, with our busy lives, tend not to do.

The relationship between sleep and mental health is a two-way street. Poor sleep can exacerbate mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, while pre-existing mental health issues can often lead to sleep disturbances. Studies have shown that people with insomnia are three times more likely to develop depression.

On the other hand, getting enough quality sleep can significantly improve your mood, emotional regulation, and cognitive function.

During sleep, your brain isn’t just resting - it’s actively consolidating memories and processing emotions. This is particularly true during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, the stage characterised by dream formation and rapid eye movements. Research suggests that REM sleep plays a crucial role in emotional regulation.

Imagine your brain as a filing cabinet. During waking hours, we accumulate experiences, both positive and negative.REM sleep is like the filing clerk, sorting through these experiences and filing away the important ones, while discarding the emotional baggage associated with less important events. Without adequate REM sleep, these emotions can linger, potentially leading to increased vulnerability to mental health problems.

Here’s something else that your sleep can help with - weight loss! In the pursuit of a healthier lifestyle, many individuals focus on diet and exercise, often overlooking a crucial element that plays a significant role in weight management: quality sleep. As it is World Sleep Day next week, it’s the perfect time to tell you about the profound impact that a good night’s sleep can have on achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.

Numerous studies have confirmed the intricate relationship between sleep and weight management. Sleep deprivation can disrupt the delicate balance of hormones that regulate hunger and satiety (feeling full or satisfied), leading to increased cravings for high-calorie, sugary foods. When we don’t get enough sleep, the levels of ghrelin, the hormone responsible for stimulating appetite, rise, while leptin, the hormone that signals fullness, decreases. This hormonal imbalance creates a perfect storm for overeating and poor food choices.

Inadequate sleep can also hinder our ability to make mindful food decisions. Fatigue and sleepiness impair cognitive function, making it more challenging to resist tempting snacks and make rational choices about portion sizes. When we are well-rested, we are better equipped to make conscious, healthier choices, about the foods we eat.

The impact of sleep on metabolism is another crucial aspect of weight management. Quality sleep promotes a healthy metabolism, ensuring that the body efficiently processes nutrients and burns calories. In contrast, sleep deprivation can lead to a sluggish metabolism, making weight loss more difficult to achieve and sustain.

For those of you on a weight loss journey or seeking to manage your diet effectively, prioritising sleep should be right up there with your choices of food and exercise. Establishing a consistent sleep routine, creating a comfortable sleep environment, and practicing relaxation techniques can contribute to better sleep quality and, consequently, support weight management goals.

Tips for a good night’s sleep, and a healthy mind:

* Establish a Regular Sleep Schedule: Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even at weekends. This helps regulate your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle (circadian rhythm).

* Create a Relaxing Bedtime Routine: Wind down for 30-60 minutes before bed with calming activities like reading, taking a warm bath, or light stretching. Avoid screens for at least an hour before sleep, as the blue light emitted can disrupt melatonin production, a hormone that regulates sleep.

* Optimise Your Sleep Environment: Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, cool, and clutter-free. Invest in a comfortable mattress and pillows.

* Limit Caffeine and Alcohol: While caffeine can give you a temporary energy boost, it can interfere with sleep later in the day. Similarly, while alcohol may make you feel drowsy initially, it disrupts sleep quality later in the night.

* Regular Exercise: Regular physical activity can improve sleep quality, but avoid strenuous workouts close to bedtime.

* Manage Stress: Chronic stress can wreak havoc on your sleep. Practice relaxation techniques like meditation or deep breathing before bed.

Martin Furber is a therapist qualified in various modalities and an instructor member of Mental Health First Aid England

If you are in any kind of mental health crisis please go to your GP, A&E or call the Samaritans on 116 123 or text SHOUT to 85258.