The Importance of Keeping a Routine-Even Over Break

Jessica Brokenshire, BSW, MSW Candidate

     Everyone looks forward to the breaks between semesters, mostly because we can finally catch up on sleep and there is no homework to be done. It’s easy for all of us to want to sleep break away and enjoy not having any tests to study for or papers to write.  It’s important however to consider the effects it could have on your body if you sleep all day and stay up all night. There is a significant amount of research that shows keeping a regular sleeping pattern can be extremely beneficial to everyone, especially those with mental illnesses.

     Keeping a regulated schedule doesn’t necessarily mean waking up at 6AM and going to bed at 9PM, it’s about consistency and what factors you incorporate into your routine.  If nothing else, attempting to create a regular sleep/wake cycle has less side effects than trying a new medication and allows you to take charge of the process. Research shows that an unbalanced sleep schedule can cause exhaustion during the day, which can lead to an onset of mania or depression for those with bipolar disorder. One study in particular displays results in which individuals who developed a regular sleeping pattern were able to go longer without having any manic or depressive episodes than those who did not regulate their sleep pattern.

A productive pattern doesn’t only include sleep, however.  There are some key elements to a good routine with research proven benefits.  A pattern that could be beneficial may include a set sleep/wake time, along with time throughout the day to get fresh air, go for a walk, exercise, meditate, or other activities that keep you active and involved.  It can be as simple as sitting on your porch for three minutes every morning, or it could be as extensive as going to the gym for a workout every day.   Some individuals exercise for their body, some for their mind. Physical exercise has been confirmed to be a stress reliever and also helps to regulate an individual’s mood in a more productive manner. Exercising throughout the day can improve your sleep schedule, creating a dual positive effect on your mental health symptoms by relieving stress as well as improving your quality of sleep. Exercise, even minimal exercise, reduces stress, increases self-esteem, improves memory, reduces anxiety, and assists in regulating an individual’s mood.

Maintaining a routine will not “fix” your mental illness nor will it completely erase your symptoms. A routine works best when coupled with therapy and taking medication (if appropriate) as prescribed by a medical professional. Your individual routine can be modified to your specific needs, such as setting a wake and sleep time, adjusting the level of physical activity, and making a routine around your work schedule. You know yourself best, and should make decisions that are most beneficial to you. Even if you are skeptical about the benefits of regular routine, what harm can it do to try?  You may not see a significant improvement in your symptoms, but it certainly won’t make things worse.