Because mental health is about more than just our minds, it’s vital that we pay attention to our sleep, nutrition and exercise: the golden triangle of good physical and mental health.
Sleep is crucial to keep us functioning properly: it helps us to learn, improves our memory, strengthens our immunity, promotes the elimination of toxins and encourages healing. It also has a positive impact on our moods and emotions.
An adult needs between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. When you don’t get enough sleep at night, a 20-minute nap during the day can help.
Tips for a good night’s sleep:
- Wind down before bedtime: avoid vigorous exercise in the 2 hours before going to bed and avoid the use of screens in the last hour (their blue light inhibits the production of melatonin – the sleep hormone – so it takes longer to fall asleep).
- Develop a routine: practise a calming activity at least 30-45 minutes before bedtime to condition your brain for sleep.
- Keep to a regular sleep pattern: the production of cortisol, which is at its lowest in the first part of the night and at its highest early in the morning, is inversely proportional to that of melatonin. Cortisol is a stimulant that causes our energy levels to peak between 6 and 8 a.m. That’s why getting up at the same time every day helps to stabilise the cortisol cycle and puts us in better shape.
Nutrition has an impact on our mental health and well-being. Our brains need nutrients to function; the food we eat affects factors linked to mood, hormones and cognition (memory, reasoning, learning, etc.).
Some important points to note:
- A healthy, balanced diet is vital for our physical and mental health. Although there is no single diet that suits everyone, researchers have observed that people who increase their daily intake of fruit and vegetables feel greater life satisfaction.
- By taking the time to eat proper meals, at regular times, you will enjoy your food and be less likely to snack.
- Avoid eating too late in the evening: our metabolism slows down when we’re asleep, making digestion harder and sleep less restorative.
It’s well known that physical activity has a positive effect on health in general. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every week.
Any exercise is good for you: use your bicycle instead of the car for short journeys, get off the tram one stop before your destination and walk for 5 minutes, or climb the stairs instead of taking the lift.
Some of the benefits of regular physical activity:
- A healthy heart, a healthy weight and lower “bad” cholesterol, better circulation and stronger bones, protection against osteoporosis.
- Higher levels of serotonin, the precursor to melatonin, also known as the sleep hormone – that’s why exercising makes you sleep better!
- A better mood and general mental state: physical activity produces dopamine, the neurotransmitter of reward and pleasure, as well as endorphins, which have a painkilling and euphoric effect.
Let’s not forget that our mental health is crucial to our overall health.
If you feel that you would benefit from talking professional or personal matters through with a professional, don’t hesitate to contact us. The Medical Service offers all members of the personnel (MPE and MPA) first-line psychological counselling. Appointments with our psychologists, Katia Schenkel and Sébastien Tubau, are free of charge and strictly confidential: https://hse.cern/content/psychologist.
The next article in this series will cover ways of looking after our mental health – check out the next Bulletin.