April 19, 2023

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

Mental health, behavioral health, emotional well-being. No matter what you call it, many things affect it – including sleep, nutrition, sunshine and exercise. 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 reflect 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, health coach at the Center for Healthy Living on Purdue’s West Lafayette campus, agrees.

“Many anxiety disorders are associated with difficulties sleeping,” she explains. “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 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. To schedule with a health coach at either of the Center for Healthy Living locations (West Lafayette or Northwest), call 765-494-0111 or utilize 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 is one of the no-cost wellness programs available to benefits-eligible employees and dependents covered on a Purdue health plan.

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,” said Megan Shidler, registered dietitian at the Center for Healthy Living. “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. 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 an 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 can also 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,’” said Amanda Hathcock, behavioral health counselor at the Center for Healthy Living. “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 physically going outside when the sun is out, opening blinds or curtains to let sunshine into homes and offices can also help boost mood. 

Strengthen brain health with exercise

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, exercise has been researched and validated for treating a variety of mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, addictions, grief, relationship problems, dementia and personality disorders.

“Medications used in the treatment of mental illness can increase levels of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain,” says Whitney Soto, health coach at the Center for Healthy Living on Purdue’s West Lafayette campus. “Physical activity itself can also trigger the release of serotonin and dopamine. These neurotransmitters help regulate mood and energy, increase motivation, reduce stress, and more.”

As spring settles in and summer prepares to arrive, opportunities for exercise can be found both inside and out. For instance, Purdue’s West Lafayette campus offers scenic routes for bike riding, walking, jogging, roller blading and more, as well as indoor locations for exercise at the A.H. Ismail Center for Preventive and Lifestyle Medicine and the France A. Córdova Recreational Sports Center.


To assist faculty and staff

Faculty and staff can review the Mental Health Resources webpage for a variety of available resources, which support the behavioral health pillar of the Healthy Boiler Program as well as information on Purdue’s health plan coverage for mental health and substance abuse. 

To assist students

Faculty and staff who work with students or have a student at home can direct them to the resources below for behavioral health assistance. Note: United Healthcare Student Resources (UHCSR) — medical plan provider for students and graduate students — offers 292 unique mental health providers serving at various locations that are in-network with UHCSR within Tippecanoe County. The list is available here. Additionally, students have access to HealthiestYou, which provides virtual access to mental health care as part of UHCSR’s plan. All services are free for students covered under the UHCSR insurance plan.   

Office of the Dean of Students

Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS)

Faculty-Staff News

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