Sunday, 2 October 2016

Sweet dreams are made of this: being on your own, outside, and reading a book

Friday morning I overslept. It doesn’t happen often. I didn't wake up until 06.10. Yesterday was the same. My body clock let me down and not only did I oversleep, when I did wake up I felt absolutely exhausted. I think I know the reason why. Partly it was a consequence of long term Statin use which as well as protecting my heart and brain, also leaves me feeling fatigued and often with aching muscles. Partly it was due to an irritating eye infection. Mainly I think my problem was a consequence of the sleep robbing anxiety of meeting some tight delivery times for what have been sustained and complex work demands. Although experience tells me the state of my current mental health and wellbeing is probably self-limiting the results of the Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing published last week showed I am not alone in experiencing such problems.

Whilst the survey drew on 2014 data it provided an important check on the health and wellbeing of the population. The results showed that one in three adults, (those aged between 16 -74) with conditions such as anxiety or depression were accessing mental health treatment. This is an increase since 2007, with women in particular showing higher rates of anxiety and depression than previously. Work related stress is but one of the known causes of anxiety and depression. There are a wide range of other known associations. These include: social isolation; being a member of some ethnic groups; poor housing and fuel poverty; childhood abuse (physical and sexual) and neglect; poor physical health; bullying, bereavement; job loss; being a carer; poor family relationships; problems with alcohol and illicit drugs; and being female.

The survey also revealed a higher (and growing) rate of young people, (aged 16-24 years old) are experiencing mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, with a rise in the number of young females engaging in purposeful self-harming behaviours. In last week's blog I noted that these days on average children get their first smart phone aged 10 years old. Clearly smart phones, computers, TVs and tablet devices are absolutely brilliant for enabling children and young people to explore the world they are growing up in and understanding themselves in relation to others in that world. Increasingly from a much earlier age children are experimenting with communication, information discovery, relationship building and unfortunately, at times, perhaps also putting themselves at risk of exploitation by others. 

Nick Harrop, YoungMinds Campaign Manager has noted that engaging in social media can put a great deal of pressure on girls to live their lives in the public domain, to present themselves as a 'personal brand' from a young age in their desire to seek reassurance in the form of number of 'likes' and 'shares' or 'retweets'. Other research by YoungMinds revealed that 81% of parents felt that access to social media resulted in their children being more vulnerable to experiencing mental health problems. It would be wrong of me to assume these are the same parents that buy their children a smart phone in the first place.

However, it was the work of Jim Horne of Loughborough University's Sleep Research Centre that caught my attention last week. His research discovered that only just over 50% of all 11 – 17 year olds are getting eight hours or more sleep. His sleep expert team report that young people in this age group tend to need at least 8 hours of deep sleep to be able to concentrate at school and maintain their mental health and wellbeing. Whilst I think smart phones and other devices are brilliant at enabling children and young people to connect with the world they live in, Jim Horne notes that the white light from the screens affects how people get to sleep and of course, the gadgets themselves can be a constant distraction. 

All of the above raised the question in my mind as to what is normal sleep? How do we ensure we get the rest we need to ensure a well-balanced mental health and wellbeing experience? Well last November there was a Hubub survey (a collaboration between Radio 4, Durham University and the Welcome Trust) which suggested that nearly 70% of people felt they needed to get more rest than they were currently getting. Interestingly, reading; being in the natural environment; and spending time alone were the top 3 ways people said they gained restful time. Sleep didn’t feature in the study at all. What surprised me more than anything else was that neuroscientists today tell us that our brains are in fact far busier when we are not concentrating on a task. And as you can see from this blog, hopefully order, as some of us know it, can be restored.