April 28, 2021

Sleep, nutrition and sun – all play a role in behavioral health

Healthy Boiler behaviorial health graphic

Mental health, behavioral health, emotional well-being … no matter what you call it, many things affect it – including sleep, nutrition and sunshine. In addition, as a pillar of the Healthy Boiler Program, behavioral health is a priority for the Purdue community.  

Impact of sleep on mental health

The saying “woke up on the wrong side of the bed” has long been used to show how sleep can affect someone’s mental well-being. According to the Sleep Foundation, sleep is closely connected to mental and emotional health and may be associated with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and other mental health conditions.

Cheryl Laszynski, registered nurse health coach at the Center for Healthy Living (CHL) on Purdue’s West Lafayette campus, agrees.

“Many anxiety disorders are associated with difficulties sleeping,” Laszynski says. “Stress and worry seem to heighten for some individuals closer to bedtime, and when your mind is racing with all of these thoughts it can be difficult to fall asleep, which in turn can result in lack of sleep. Attempting to change the trajectory of this poor sleep combined with anxiety or other mental health concerns can add even more stress. It can be overwhelming, but it’s important for individuals to remember that there is help available.”

Health coaches and employee assistance counselors at the CHL – as well as the health coach at Purdue Fort Wayne – can work with individuals to address sleep and relaxation as well as stress, anxiety and more. The partnership formed with a health coach can help individuals set and reach goals to improve their overall wellness. Employee assistance counselors can dive deeper into the well-being of any mental health concerns. To schedule with a health coach or counselor at the CHL, call 765-494-0111 or use the patient portal. To schedule with Lindsay Bloom, health coach at Purdue Fort Wayne, call 260-481-6651 or email lmbloom@pfw.edu. All appointments are available in-person or via phone. Health coaching and employee assistance counseling are no-cost wellness programs.

In addition, LiveHealth Online offers LiveHealth Online Better Sleep, which consists of a care path for members to effectively identify, engage, diagnose and manage sleep disorders. LiveHealth Online visits process within the HealthSync Network.

Nutrition plays a role in mental well-being

“Science has shown us that dietary changes can bring about physiological and chemical alterations in our brain,” says Megan Shidler, registered dietitian at the CHL. “While food and diet may not be the magic cure to all mental illness, it can certainly be a valuable tool in promoting and restoring mental health.”

“Micronutrient deficiencies and malnutrition can impact both physical and mental health,” Shidler says. “Protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins B12 and B6, folate, zinc, iron and iodine are some key nutrients when it comes to the brain. A pattern of eating that includes a variety of nutrient-dense foods such as high-quality proteins, healthy fats and a rainbow of fruits and vegetables can provide and efficacious and accessible treatment strategy for the management of certain mental disorders and promotion of mental health.”

Sunshine: The free mood enhancer

Sunshine is most often linked to feelings of cheerfulness and positivity, so it’s no wonder that sunshine also can be a mood enhancer, literally. And the bonus is that it’s free.

“Exposure to sunlight systemically triggers the production of serotonin, sometimes referred to as the ‘happy hormone,’” says Amanda Hathcock, employee assistance counselor at the CHL. “Reduced serotonin is associated with irritability and impaired sleep, while increased levels are linked to feelings of well-being and happiness. Those who experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD) know all too well how lack of sunlight can negatively affect their mood. As we approach spring and the days continue to get longer, resulting in more light, those who experience SAD often begin to see an improvement in how they are feeling emotionally. Those who experience milder symptoms like winter blues also tend to see their moods improve this time of year.”

In addition to going outside when the sun is out, opening blinds or curtains to let sunshine into homes and offices can also help boost mood.

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