More Than You See 3.9 - Sleep, Meditation, and Nutrition: How it Effects Our Mental Health
10:10PM Jan 17, 2022
Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me for another episode of the More Than You See podcast hosted by me, actor, filmmaker mental health advocate Deborah Lee Smith. Every Monday, I come to you to share some resources, have a conversation, and generally just dive into all sorts of topics around mental health. I am not a licensed practitioner or therapist, but just a woman exploring my own mental health journey and sharing it with you, my listeners, my hope is that this podcast brings you some joy, some understanding and some tools so that you can build your own mental health toolbox.
Hi, everyone, welcome back to season three of the podcast. And this is our little mini series all about different kinds of mental health treatments. Last week, I went into five new innovative groundbreaking mental health treatments, and I specifically shared a story from someone who is using TMS therapy, which is transcranial magnetic stimulation. And it is often used with people who are on medication for depression or anxiety or PTSD. And it's just not working optimally the way that it necessarily could or should. And so it was wonderful because I shared a story from a listener about his own experience with TMS, and how it's been going for him - how the treatments are, and what change he's seen in his life. And he is going to also, you know, give me another update in the future. I'm really excited for him to share, once he's done with his 11 sessions, how he's feeling and what changes he saw from the beginning of the sessions to the end of all of those sessions. So stay tuned for that in the future.
This week, however, we are going to dive into the more holistic mental health treatments, because I'm sure that you've heard that it's important to sleep. If you - I mean, it's important to sleep all the time. Anyways, just important for our general health. And I think this is, you know, the underlying message today is going to be, hey, this thing is important for our mental health. It's also just generally important for our health. But why? So we're going to talk about sleep, we're going to talk about the benefits of meditation, and we're going to talk about the benefits of good nutrition, and why those three aspects affect our mental health in such a positive way, and why if you maybe aren't doing those things in an optimal way, they can have a negative effect on our mental health. Because I think that, you know, you've certainly heard that before or heard it in a like, general sense. But why? What is it chemically doing? How is it actually making an impact on your body in a positive or negative way. That is what we are going to dive into today.
Before we get started, I know I'm not consistent with this, but I'm just gonna say it right now because I remember, please make sure that you are subscribed to the podcast, please, rate and review this podcast. If you haven't before, you can do that on any of the platforms that you're listening to me on, it really does help spread the word of mouth, and potentially maybe share this podcast with someone else who you think might be influenced in a positive way. I really do love doing these podcasts. And I would love for them to continue to grow and reach a bigger and bigger audience. So I appreciate you all. And without further ado, let's talk about why sleep, why meditation and why nutrition are so important for your mental health.
Now to start out this discussion about sleep, I think that it's really important to state that sleep can be a cause of mental health disorders, as well as a symptom of mental health disorders. And in fact, in a study done by Harvard, they shared that chronic sleep problems affect 50 to 80% of people that are in a psychiatric practice - this specific practice that they were analyzing, and that's in comparison to 10 to 18% of adults in the general US population. So obviously, there's a huge jump in insomnia and sleep issues when someone is also suffering from mental health disorders or, you know, just struggling with their mental health in general. And so let's really examine why that is like why is mental health so related to sleep, and the reason is actually that each stage of your sleep plays a role in brain health. And so if you aren't getting all of those stages in, in a normal evening, then it is going to affect your brain health in a really like overwhelming manner.
REM sleep, which is, you know, like the deepest sleep, which is also where you dream or where you have the most intense dreams, that's when your brain activity really starts to pick up. And at that stage of your sleep, your brain is actually processing a lot of emotional information. So during that part of your sleep, your brain is actually evaluating thoughts and memories. And so it appears that when you are not actually in REM sleep, it really has an overwhelming effect in the fact that you will not remember a lot of positive emotional content. So if you are not getting that REM sleep you aren't, your brain literally isn't processing any positive things that happen throughout the day. And so unfortunately, if you have had a real lack of REM sleep, that will lead to a higher risk of suicidal ideations or suicidal behaviors, because you have that lack of like positive memories or thoughts about your day or about your life.
Now, just in general, having a lack of sleep, leads to a lack of you know, that, that brain health and leads to a lack of your brain getting enough oxygen and getting the rest that it needs as well. And it can really, you know, statistically show that it will lead you into a negative feedback loop, whenever you have a lack of sleep. I don't know if you've experienced this, or I certainly have, where I have a, you know, sleepless night, and then the next day it just seems like everything goes wrong. And there's, you know, like, an actual reason for that. And the reason is that your brain just has not, you know, gotten the processing that it needs. When you're sleeping, your brain needs that time, just like you need that time. And so obviously, when you are in these negative feedback loops, it causes that depression to heighten which then causes you know, you to sleep less, which then causes your depression to heighten so it's definitely a chicken or the egg kind of thing, and can really lead to bigger and bigger problems if you don't focus on getting enough sleep. And of course, this affects so many different aspects of mental health.
Unfortunately, it is estimated that over 300 million people worldwide have depression and 75% of those people show symptoms of insomnia. And this can actually be both insomnia, as in you cannot sleep, but then also hypersomnia, which means that you sleep too much, or you're sleeping, you know, during the day and an excessive amount. And so it really, you know, both of these things can really exacerbate depression, and it really you know, mutually reinforces the lack of sleep and the depression again, that like really negative feedback loop definitely causes a lot of problems. Same thing with anxiety, bipolar, schizophrenia, ADHD, all of those different types of very common mental health disorders are often connected with a lack of sleep because either people have difficulty falling asleep, or they have very obstructive sleep, or they aren't able to go back to sleep, if they wake up in the middle of the night. I mean, that's definitely something that I have experienced. They also can have restless leg syndrome, which is very high in people with ADHD. So there's a lot of different difficulties when it comes to sleep. And so if you are really experiencing a lack of sleep, it is very recommended to focus on that symptom as also a disorder as also something that you need to put time and attention into.
And so then, of course, you know, there's all sorts of different ways that you can try to optimize your sleep. I am very bad at following all of these things. But you know, obviously getting enough exercise throughout the day so that you want to go to sleep at night, that's the only one that I'm actually good at. Making sure that you are turning off your devices close to bedtime, that one I am quite bad at making sure that yeah, you're not watching TV or you're not on your phone right before you go to sleep. You know, there's there's a lot of different like really important, different small changes that you can make to your life, and to your nighttime routine to ensure that you have better sleep. And this would be a very long podcast episode of I went into all of those different things as well. But maybe that's something we can expand on in the future. So if this is something, again, that you particularly suffer from, I would highly recommend that you talk to your doctor, or, you know, talk to your therapist about different ways that you can improve your sleep. And because that potentially will help with your mental illness as well.
Now let's move on to talk about meditation. I'm sure that you've heard before the importance of meditation, when it comes to mental health, this is another thing that I am not so great at. But after recording this episode, I am going to make a promise to myself to get better at this. And this is why I mean, meditation, I knew on some level why it was so effective and helpful to our mental health. But here are some of the reasons why when you meditate, it actually lowers the levels of cortisol in your body, which is the stress hormone. So right off the bat, you're already feeling less stress, because there's less of that hormone coursing through your body. There was also a study in 2011, from Harvard, as well, where they studied people's brains before and after participating in an eight week meditation program. And brain scans at the end of this program showed a substantial increase in gray matter in the parts of the brain that were responsible for learning memory and emotional regulation. So basically, by doing that eight week meditation, the parts of our body that so strongly affect the mental health actually were stronger, and there was more of it, which again, allows that processing to happen, allows that analysis of the brain to happen. And so you're, you're, just like making your brain stronger and more able to process what's going on in your day.
There was also a study in 2016, at Carnegie Mellon, where they studied how mindfulness meditation can improve concentration and decision making. And this group was consisted of adults looking for work, one group participated in a three day relaxation program with mindfulness meditation, and the other group participated in a relaxation program without meditation component. And the people who had meditation and mindfulness as part of their three day relaxing, relax relaxation program, showed an increase in connectivity in the parts of the brain that control your attention, and self awareness. And so that's really incredible, because it obviously improved, those people who are meditating, improve their cognitive ability to be self aware about what was going on in their body, as well as to actually train their attention span, which is pretty incredible, like, the fact that your attention can actually be a learnable skill. That's really, really amazing.
And then, of course, just in general, there is this idea that meditation, you know, really strongly improves your self awareness in general, it improves your ability to kind of see what's going on in your life, as well as what, you know, thoughts are coming in and out of our brain. Going back to something I said a couple episodes ago, where a friend reminded me that, you know, our, our thoughts are not facts, and definitely was doing this mindfulness meditation. I think that's something that really resonates and really becomes concrete of this idea that, yes, we may have these thoughts, but that isn't necessarily the reality of our situation right now. And I think that it kind of gives some, some hope, and some, just like, warm fuzzies in the idea that, you know, we have some control, at least over what is happening in our brains. And I think that the more that we meditate, the more that we are able to have that self awareness and have that control over what we are believing in our minds. And clearly, I need to start this meditation practice, ASAP, because my brain is just all over the place today. So tomorrow, starting meditation, tonight, starting meditation.
And then the third component that I want to talk about tonight is how our food and our nutrition affects our mental health. And again, this is something that it's like, "Well, duh, of course it does, Deborah", but why? Why does our nutrition so strongly affect our mental health? And so I'm going to talk about some of the different components of nutrition and why they are so strongly impactful and how we are feeling. And if you want to dive into this more, I strongly recommend that you go back and listen to episode one from season two with Liana Nielsen. She is a nutrition health coach who was an actor, and then decided to become this nutrition health coach and her focus is on the connection between nutrition and mental health. So I would strongly encourage, if this is something that you feel will, you know, impact your life in a in a positive way, I strongly recommend that you go back and listen to it now on the most basic level.
And this is, you know, obvious, but it's not really something that is recognized, just like our heart, our stomach, our liver, our kidneys, just like every aspect of our body needs proper nutrition in order to function. Our brain does as well. And so our brain is an organ that requires a specific amount of complex carbs, fatty acids, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, water in order to remain healthy. And so if you are not feeding yourself and feeding your organs properly, that's also obviously going to affect your brain, which then will affect your mental health. Now, before we start, I think that it's really important to state that some parts of the world truly understand how important these connections are. Oftentimes the quote unquote "Mediterranean diet", which is a diet that's high in oils, and omega threes, that's that is a quote, unquote, you know, "diet", which I'm just referring to what we're eating, not a, you know, diet for losing weight, or something else, but but just like what you're ingesting. That Mediterranean diet has been proven to help people that are suffering from different mental illnesses, because your brain really does need a lot more omega threes and a lot more fatty oils and fatty acids than other parts of your body. And so oftentimes, people that follow a Mediterranean diet are statistically proven to be happier. And there's a lot of, you know, different reasons for that. There's a lot of speculation for that. But one of the, you know, key things is really shown between the diet and happiness in those areas of the world.
Also, I think it's really cool in the fact that if you are suffering from depression, or anxiety or some other kind of mental illness in the UK, before they will prescribe you with medication, at least in some parts of the UK, they will send you home with a nutrition plan and an exercise plan. And they will set you up with a basically a nutrition coach to help encourage your good eating and encourage you to move your body. Because people who are running this program in the UK, really see the importance of getting that exercise and getting that proper nutrition and how much it is going to positively impact your body. And then after a certain amount of time, I don't remember how long it is, once you know, do that for a couple months, then you can go back to your therapist at that point and say like, it isn't working, now I would like to try some medication.
And of course, I'm a huge proponent of medication and how integral it is for some people's mental health. But the UK is really putting this focus on the idea that we're not just going to throw a pill at something and we're going to take a step back and go, let's make sure that our body is functioning at an optimal level. And that we are you know, taking care of our whole holistic body before we try and just cure things with medication, which I think is really really incredible.
Now I think the thing that when I was doing the research on this episode was like, the most fascinating for me, is the fact that there are specific nutritional deficiencies that affect specific symptoms of depression, anxiety, you know, PTSD, bipolar, whatever. So for example, if you have a lack of B 12 in your body, you are deficient in B 12, the symptoms that will come from that will be confusion, poor memory and psychosis. If you have a deficiency of vitamin C, you will have an increased chance of depression. If you have a deficiency of folic acid, you will have an increase of anxiety, depression and psychosis. If you have a deficiency in magnesium, you will have an increase in irritability, insomnia, depression. And so I'm going to share this chart that I'm looking at that has all of these different nutrients, how they affect the deficiency and some different food sources where you can get these vitamins that you might be deficient in. But I think that it just shows how having a lack of this vitamin directly affects your mental health, because there's so clearly a tie to this deficiency and how it's making you feel. And so if you're experiencing a specific symptom that's listed on the chart, you can actually say like, oh, I might actually be deficient in zinc, and I can get more zinc from nuts, seeds, fish. Great, this is maybe something that I want to try and add to my body in order to just have like a more holistic view of your health.
And I think that, you know, this is something that when we, when women are pregnant, or they're, after they've given birth, they're really pay attention to their vitamins, and they pay attention to what they're feeding themselves and feeding their babies. Like oftentimes, when we're potentially - our body is directly affecting someone else's well being, then we kind of look at the vitamins, and we look at how we're treating ourselves. But when it comes to just how it's affecting us, we aren't as careful or we aren't, you know, thinking about things as good as we could. And I just want to remind everyone that our nutrition and how it affects us is just as important as how our nutrition would affect a future child or family member. Like you yourself are important, your body is important. And I think that all of these different aspects, these different things that I've just discussed, just show how much having a holistic, self aware approach is so key to our mental health.
I'm going to share some more things on the Instagram this week, as far as how different nutrition can affect your mental health, because I think it's really important. For example, you know, like an increase in sugar can really negatively impact your mental health. And there's a lot of different reasons for that. Of course, you know, alcohol can have a negative effect on our body, not having a fiber can have a negative effect on our body. Like there's so many different things. And, again, this episode would be so long if I went into all of them that I'm going to share more of these things on our Instagram this week. The link to that is in the show notes. So definitely check it out.
But I think that the main thing I want to leave everyone with today is that our bodies, what we put into it, both the thoughts as well as what we are physically putting into it, making sure that we are you know, getting enough water, getting some kind of exercise that we are out in nature and and allowing that blood to flow allowing our, our limbs to you know, stretch and all those things. It's so important to our whole mental health and, and not just because it like theoretically makes us feel better, but because it is physically improving different aspects of our mental health when it comes to you know, our vitamins and and how its feeding our brain how it's feeding our body in different ways. I really hope that everyone learns something this episode and that you potentially take away something that you're going to try and incorporate into a future habit.
As I said, I am starting a new meditation practice tonight because clearly this is something that I need to put more time and attention into to build that gray matter in my brain.
Thank you everyone so much for being a part of this community. Please remember to be kind to yourself this week. Remember that you and everyone around you is more than you see. Thank you so much for listening, and I will catch you all next week.