The Impact of Sleep on Mental Health

Getting a good night of quality sleep is essential for not only our physical well being, but our mental wellbeing as well. 

An article by Helpline shares that sleep deprivation can lead to a host of problems including memory issues; trouble with thinking, focus and concentration; an increased risk for accidents; negative mood changes; a weakened immune system; high blood pressure; low-sex drive; weight gain; increased risk of heart disease; poor balance/coordination; and an increased risk for developing diabetes. Yikes. 

Fortunately, there are many ways to prevent these issues and get better sleep. Read on to learn more about the brain and body connection between sleep and mental health—and how to improve both.



The Link Between Sleep & Pre-Existing Mental Health Disorders

According to the Sleep Foundation, research shows that there is a close connection between sleep and mental health. 

The article goes on to say, “Each stage [of sleep] plays a role in brain health, allowing activity in different parts of the brain to ramp up or down and enabling better thinking, learning, and memory. Research has also uncovered that brain activity during sleep has profound effects on emotional and mental health.”

Those with pre-existing mental health disorders are more likely to be impacted by poor sleep quality and not getting enough sleep in the first place, than those who are neurotypical (a.k.a. people who don’t have behavioral or mental health conditions, or those with developmental disabilities). A strong link has been shown between sleep and different mental health disorders and developmental disorders including depression, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), anxiety disorder, PTSD, bipolar disorder(s), schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Around 75% of people with a depressive disorder (such as major depression), for example, show symptoms of insomnia.

While poor sleep can worsen symptoms of these mental health disorders, the opposite is also true—these mental illnesses themselves can also cause poor sleep. 

“There is evidence of a bidirectional relationship between sleep and ADHD,” according to the Sleep Foundation. “In addition to being a consequence of ADHD, sleep problems may aggravate symptoms like reduced attention span or behavior problems.”



Benefits of Getting Good Sleep

Just as poor sleep can worsen mental health, good sleep can improve overall mental health. The benefits for our mental health of getting quality sleep are numerous. A good sleep routine will help lead to high-quality sleep, resulting in reduced stress levels, improved mood, more energy, less anxiety, improved focus and memory.

So what is good sleep? Well, “good sleep” isn’t just the amount of sleep you’re getting, but the quality of your sleep as well. Optimal sleep entails getting enough of both REM and non-REM sleep cycles. 

What is REM? This acronym stands for rapid eye movement sleep. During this stage of sleep, eyes move around rapidly in a range of directions without sending visual cues to the brain. REM sleep usually kicks in about 90 minutes after you’ve fallen asleep, with multiple periods of REM sleep occurring throughout the night, each one longer than the last. REM sleep is crucial for dreaming, deep sleep, and brain activity during the sleep cycle.

Non-REM sleep, on the other hand, is needed for REM sleep to take place. In the final stage of non-REM sleep, your body regrows and repairs tissues, builds bones and muscles and strengthens the immune systems.

Think of REM sleep and non-REM sleep as two halves of a whole: They go hand in hand to help your brain and your body function properly. 

It’s a balancing act getting just enough of both REM and non-REM sleep. Hence why getting enough sleep—but not too much sleep—is the goal. Because of this, doctors generally recommend getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night. 

For more information about what happens during these different sleep cycles, check out this article by WebMD. 



Tips for Better Sleep

Good news—there are plenty of scientifically backed ways to improve your quality of sleep.

Here are Our Tips for Improving Your Sleep:

  1. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day and night—even on the weekends. It may take some time, but this will help your body set its own internalized clock, resulting in more restful sleep and more energy in the morning.
  2. Avoid screens at least an hour before bedtime. This is because the blue light emitted by screens can interfere with the body’s natural circadian rhythm making it harder to fall asleep.
  3. Be mindful about the media you consume before bedtime—negative content (such as watching a distressing movie or the news) before bedtime can result in bad dreams and interrupted sleep.
  4. Create a relaxing bedtime routine that you do every night. Over time, this will create a signal for your brain and body that it’s time to sleep. Reading a book, drinking a cup of non-caffeinated tea, taking a bath, or practicing mindfulness meditation are great places to start.
  5. Create a comfortable sleeping environment by getting a comfy bed and pillow set-up, and sleeping in a quiet, cool and dark environment. A sleeping mask, ear plugs or a white noise machine can also be used to achieve an ideal bedtime state.
  6. Exercise regularly. Exercise helps improve sleep quality and promotes restfulness. However, avoid working out close to bedtime as it can trigger your brain and body to be active.
  7. Limit caffeine and alcohol consumption, especially in the couple of hours before going to bed.


If you need more help with your mental health, therapy is a great place to start. To learn more about Valera Health’s virtual therapy services and more, request a free consultation with a designated Health Connector or visit


Valera Health’s Anxiety and Trauma Group Can Help Survivors Heal—Here’s How

When one thinks of group therapy, a circle of folding chairs and stale coffee at the back of the room may come to mind. However, contrary to stereotypical depictions, group therapy presents an opportunity to heal and embrace change among peers.

The efficacy of group therapy in generating positive outcomes is widely supported in scientific literature (McRoberts et al. 1998). But what makes group therapy effective at addressing distressing feelings? One factor for consideration is cohesion, the degree to which a group connects together. The greater the level of cohesion, the more that group members will experience beneficial results (Burlingame et al., 2011). 

Engagement in a cohesive therapy group can generate feelings of community, group membership, belongingness and support. Furthermore, group therapy meetings can function as a learning environment in which a therapist can share helpful resources, members can learn from the stories of their peers, and most people in the group improve their communication skills.

Benefits of Group Therapy for Anxiety and for Trauma Survivors

Group therapy has shown to be especially helpful when it comes to decreasing anxiety and trauma symptoms (Mendelsohn et al., 2008). Survivors of trauma often experience isolation and may withdraw from relationships. Group therapy can address this particular issue by creating a sense of community in which the survivor feels safe and supported (Mendelsohn et al., 2008). 

Additionally, for those experiencing anxiety, group therapy can be helpful by providing a safe space where fears and worries are validated. Valera Health is pleased to introduce the newest addition to our group therapy programs: Anxiety and Trauma Group. This virtual group was designed to be a safe space for patients to discuss life transitions, school stress, stress around relationships, and the challenges that arise with decision-making. Another focus of the group is using coping skills to navigate daily stressors and other symptoms of anxiety. If you are experiencing anxiety or trauma-related symptoms, we encourage you to consider joining this group.

How to Enroll in a Valera Health Anxiety and Trauma Group

If you’re interested in signing up for Valera Health’s virtual Anxiety and Trauma Group, or would like to learn more, please fill out this quick form to schedule a consultation with a designated Health Connector. Make sure to select “group therapy” under the “What brings you to therapy today?” section. Please note that at this current time, our virtual Anxiety and Trauma Support Group* is only available to those in New York. Stay tuned for more group therapy offerings from Valera Health in the future.

*Although most health insurances are accepted, HealthFirst patients are ineligible for insurance coverage at this time.

Works Cited:

Burlingame, G. M., McClendon, D. T., & Alonso, J. (2011). Cohesion in group therapy. Psychotherapy, 48(1), 34.

McRoberts, C., Burlingame, G. M., & Hoag, M. J. (1998). Comparative efficacy of individual and group psychotherapy: A meta-analytic perspective. Group dynamics: Theory, research, and practice, 2(2), 101.

Mendelsohn, M., Zachary, R. S., & Harney, P. A. (2007). Group therapy as an ecological bridge to new community for trauma survivors. Journal of aggression, maltreatment & trauma, 14(1-2), 227-243.

This Valentine’s Day, Write a Love Letter to Yourself

Valentine’s Day is best known for being a romantic holiday—but you don’t need a romantic partner to celebrate, because love comes in all forms! That’s why this Valentine’s Day, we’re putting the focus on self-love. What is self-love? It’s much more than a buzzword—in fact, self-love can lead to a better life and more fulfilling mental state. 

A blog post by PsychCentral puts it this way, “Self-love means that you accept yourself fully, treat yourself with kindness and respect, and nurture your growth and wellbeing.Self-love encompasses not only how you treat yourself but also your thoughts and feelings about yourself.”

One facet of self-love is saying positive things about yourself. Regardless of your relationship status, this Valentine’s Day we challenge you to exercise this important practice of self-love by expressing your gratitude for yourself by writing a love letter to yourself.


How to Write a Love Letter to Yourself

Start with the following prompt:

“Dear [insert your name here],

I’m wishing you a very happy Valentine’s Day! I’m a wonderful person, worth being grateful for. 

Here are 10 things I love about myself:

  • I love…
  • I love…
  • I love…
  • I love…
  • I love…
  • I love…
  • I love…
  • I love…
  • I love…
  • I love…


[insert your name here]”

Be sure to write 10 or more things you love about yourself. Take time to really think these through—especially if you’ve had a hard time feeling confident lately. These can be either things about your personality and strengths, or physical attributes, but we’ve personally found including a combination of the two helps for a holistic self-love fest. 

Sometimes we are much more judgemental about ourselves than we would ever be about a stranger or a friend. Think about writing this letter to yourself as if you were your best friend or your secret admirer. 

To make your love letter extra special, buy a pretty Valentine’s Day card to write it on or bust out a fancy piece of stationery paper. Although you can type up your letter if you prefer, we recommend handwriting it with your favorite pen to make it extra special. Don’t forget to seal it in an envelope and write your name on it! Then on Valentine’s Day, open up the envelope and soak up the self-love.


Other Ways to Practice Self-Love This Valentine’s Day

In addition to writing a love letter for yourself, there are plenty of other ways to celebrate you this Valentine’s Day.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Buy yourself a fresh bouquet of red roses or your favorite flowers
  • Munch on some Valentine’s Day candy—there’s something special about those heart shaped boxes of chocolate!
  • Take yourself out on a date—head to your favorite restaurant, cook yourself a nice meal, or head to the movie theater to watch that new film you’ve been wanting to see! 
  • Take a long bath with scented bath bombs and candles
  • Get a massage
  • Buy yourself a Valentine’s Day gift
  • Do whatever your favorite thing is—today is your day!

Check out our blog post all about the long-term benefits of self-care for more ideas. 


How Therapy Can Help You Practice Self-Love

Still struggling with self-love? Therapy can help us to better understand and appreciate ourselves. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), for example, has been shown to be one of the most effective forms of therapy for improving low self-esteem. At Valera Health, our therapists are highly experienced in CBT as well as many other forms of therapy. To learn more, request a free consultation with a designated health connector or visit


How Grief Group Therapy Can Help You Heal

No matter what it is you’re going through, if you’re in need of support and guidance, group therapy can be a wonderful option in conjunction with individual therapy, or on its own. This is why the clinical team at Valera Health is excited to announce and expand our group therapy options, starting with a virtual Grief Support Group* in New York. If you’re interested in learning more or signing-up, fill out this form to get started. 

Read on to learn more about how group therapy works, its benefits and some warning signs you may be experiencing complicated grief.

What is Group Therapy?

Group therapy is a form of psychotherapy (a.k.a. “talk therapy”) in which multiple patients are treated at once by one or more mental healthcare providers. While it can be an effective treatment for a wide array of things, group therapy is most commonly used to treat conditions such as trauma/PTSD, anxiety, depression and substance use disorders. 

As opposed to more traditional psychotherapy with one provider seeing one patient at a time, group therapy can create a sense of community for patients. Other benefits of group therapy can include—but are not limited to—growing your support system, improving your self-expression skills (such as learning how to talk openly about your emotions), finding others going through similar issues to relate to, learning from others, and learning you are not alone in whatever you are going through.  

Grief Support Group

Valera Health is excited to now offer a Grief Support Group. By joining a group of peers who have also lost a significant person in their lives, you can receive and give support during the healing processes. 

Some of the several benefits of joining a grief support group include:

  • Hope

In a group setting, the experience of loss is shared. Meeting with and talking to others who have experienced a similar loss shows that it is possible to feel a sense of joy again. For those who are further along in their healing process, sharing reassurance and encouragement can provide affirmation to themselves and further convey group as a helpful resource.

  • Support

Experiencing grief can feel extremely isolating, especially when those around you seem to be ‘getting on with their lives.’ Hearing the affirming statements of ‘We’ve been there’ or ‘We understand you’ is extremely powerful.

  • Learning from Different Perspectives

Every single person grieves differently. By listening to others you may come to various different perspectives and different levels of understanding of your own healing process. 

  • Finding Your Sense of Purpose

Giving back to others can help people feel a sense of purpose and meaning. At times, it may be difficult to fully realize how far along you are in your grief journey until you are able to guide and support someone else.

  • Acceptance

As humans we have an innate need to belong. Research has shown that a sense of belonging can contribute to our overall happiness. With loss, we can sometimes feel alone or left out, and different from others. Finding a group that understands and accepts you can be critical to your healing process.

Signs & Symptoms of Complicated Grief

During the first few months after a loss, many signs and symptoms of normal grief can look the same as those of complicated grief. Complicated grief is defined by a prolonged heightened state of mourning that can keep you from healing. With time, normal grief symptoms start to fade while symptoms of complicated grief linger and can get worse. But with grief support group therapy, symptoms of complicated grief can improve significantly. 

Here are some warning signs of complicated grief:

  • Intense sorrow and rumination
  • Problems accepting the death
  • Bitterness about your loss
  • Lack of trust in others
  • Inability to enjoy life or think back on positive experiences with your loved one
  • Numbness or detachment
  • Having trouble carrying out normal routines
  • Isolation from others
  • Self-blame or guilt

To learn more about complicated grief, click here

(source: Generations Senior Living)

How To Sign-Up For Valera Health’s Grief Support Group

If you’re interested in signing up for Valera Health’s virtual Grief Support Group, or would like to learn more, please fill out this quick form to schedule a consultation with a designated Health Connector. Make sure to select “group therapy” under the “What brings you to therapy today?” section. Please note that at this current time, our virtual Grief Support Group* is only available to those in New York. Stay tuned for more group therapy offerings from Valera Health in the future. 

*VH’s Grief Support Group is only offered in New York at this time.

*HealthFirst patients are ineligible for insurance coverage at this time.

The Difference Between Therapy & Psychiatry

As mental health professionals, therapists and psychiatrists have the same goal—to treat and manage their patients mental health symptoms and struggles so they can live a happy, healthy and fulfilling life. However, they play different roles to treat mental health disorders and symptoms.

What is a Therapist?

Therapists are licensed mental health professionals who use talk therapy to treat their patients symptoms and help them develop useful skills such as healthy coping strategies, communications skills and more. Therapists specialize in treating mental, emotional and behavioral disorders. They also help those without a diagnosable mental illness with interpersonal conflict, internal conflict and more. 

Not all therapists use the same approach, since several forms of talk therapy have been developed to treat a wide array of mental health disorders and symptoms. Therapists can even offer specialized care depending on their training and experience—for example, some therapists are experienced in LGBTQIA+/gender affirmative therapy, while others may specialize in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), which is used to treat post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In addition to using talk therapy to help their patients manage symptoms, licensed therapists are also able to diagnose different mental health disorders. However, unlike psychiatrists, therapists are not able to prescribe medication. 

Examples of Different Types of Talk Therapy:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
  • Psychodynamic Therapy
  • Humanistic Therapy
  • Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR)
  • Interpersonal Therapy (IBT)
  • Group Therapy
  • Couples Counseling
  • Family Therapy



What is a Psychiatrist?

Psychiatrists are mental health professionals who go to medical school to learn the field of psychiatry. As part of their professional training, they study how to treat mental health disorders as defined by the DSM-5. DSM-5 stands for The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, which is the most up-to-date version of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—a standard tool in psychology, psychotherapy and psychiatry used to diagnose and treat mental health disorders. 

Rather than treating mental health disorders through talk therapy, psychiatrists use medication to treat and manage their patients mental health conditions. While some psychiatrists also have the credentials to conduct psychotherapy (a.k.a “talk therapy”), therapist and psychiatrist are not interchangeable terms.

Services that Psychiatrists Provide:

  • Diagnosing mental, emotional and behavioral disorders
  • Prescribing medication to treat mental, emotional and behavioral disorders
  • Monitoring patient’s symptoms, success of prescribed medications, and monitoring side effects
  • Provide medication management such as medication changes or dosage adjustments through follow-up visits


Aside from using medication to treat mental health disorders, some psychiatrists are able to recommend and even provide alternative therapies for certain conditions when appropriate. 

This can include the following:

  • Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)
  • Light therapy for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
  • Ketamine infusions for treatment resistant psychological conditions, such as treatment resistant depression (depression that is unable to be managed through the use of antidepressants)
  • Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS)
  • Deep brain stimulation (DBS)



Getting Help

No matter what you are going through, seeing a therapist or a psychiatrist can help. 

In fact, studies have shown that seeing both a psychiatrist and therapist at the same time can result in a higher success rate when it comes to treating mental illness and mental illness symptoms. If you’re interested in therapy, psychiatry, or both, Valera Health can help. We offer virtual therapy, psychiatry and medication management services for our patients. To learn more about our services and to schedule a free consultation, visit or click here.

How to Prepare for Your First Virtual Therapy Appointment

At Valera Health, we understand that getting started with virtual therapy can feel scary—especially if you’ve never done therapy before. But our therapists and dedicated telemental healthcare team are here to help you each step of the way. 

Making the most out of each therapy session plays a key role in your healing process, which is why we’ve put together this guide all about what you need to know and do to have a successful online therapy journey. Read on to learn more.


What To Do Before Your First Session

Before you meet with your therapist for your first scheduled session, there’s a few things you’ll want to take care of. First, you’ll want to submit all required paperwork, which will likely include consent forms and submitting your insurance information. 

To make the most of your first session, we also recommend providing information to your therapist about your medical history. This may include sharing any previous mental health diagnoses, as well as any psychiatric medications you are currently taking. 

To prevent technical difficulties during your first session, make sure you have reliable internet as well as test your camera and microphone in advance. Whether you’ll be meeting with your therapist on your phone, computer or tablet, make sure to sit down and fire up your device at least five to ten minutes before your session. 

Being in a comfortable, quiet environment for your therapy appointment will help you have a successful and rewarding session with your therapist. This means meeting with your therapist at home, not in public. Have a notepad and pen within arms reach during the session so you can jot down notes or questions for your therapist. 

To avoid interruptions, let your roommates/household members know what time and day you have your appointment in advance. If you have thin walls, consider investing in a white noise sound machine so others can’t overhear you during your session.


Questions to Ask Your Therapist

If this is your first time in therapy, you might be unsure what to expect. That’s why it’s a great idea to come up with a list of questions for your therapist before your first appointment. This will not only help you get to know your therapist better, but also help you understand the therapeutic process better.

Here are some ideas of questions to ask to get you started:

  1. How would you describe your approach as a therapist?
  2. What is your experience with treating my condition?
  3. What type of therapy do you recommend for my condition? Can you tell me more about how this type of therapy works?
  4. How long will therapy last?
  5. Will you take a more directive, or less directive role in our sessions?
  6. What is your availability like if I need to talk to you or ask questions outside of scheduled therapy sessions?
  7. How do you prefer to be communicated with outside of therapy sessions?
  8. How do you handle emergencies? What’s the best way for me to reach out to you if I have an emergency?


Treatment Goals

Your first therapy session will be centered around the intake process, which is the foundation to developing a treatment plan with your therapist. However, it may take you a couple of sessions to develop a full treatment plan with your therapist.

While your therapist will work with you to come up with a solid treatment plan, it can be helpful to think about your treatment goals before your first session. Ask yourself “What is driving me to therapy in the first place?” Reflect on any distressing thoughts or feelings, or other symptoms you’ve been experiencing lately, such as feelings of sadness, increased anxiety, trouble sleeping, trouble concentrating, etc. Think about what areas of your life you want to improve.  Write down the answers in a journal so you can have notes ready to discuss with your provider. Be as thorough as possible when discussing this with your therapist. From there, they will help you come up with actionable steps you can take inside and outside of therapy to achieve your goals. 


Additional Tips

  • Relax before therapy and take time for self-care
    • While the thought of starting therapy can be nerve racking, your therapist is there to help you. Carve out time to unwind and tend to your needs before and after each therapy session.
  • Ask clarifying questions if you’re confused about anything your therapist says.
    • Therapy is a learning process and your therapist is here to help you learn.
  • Therapy is an ongoing process, inside and outside of each session. 
    • It’s important for your growth and healing to practice what you learn in therapy outside of your regular therapy sessions. 
    • To make the most of your experience, do any recommended exercises your therapist gives you in between sessions.
    • Take note of how you’re feeling each day by journaling.
      • Write down stressors and things that come up between each session to discuss with your therapist. 

Ready to get started? Our diverse team of compassionate therapists are highly trained in providing virtual therapy services to treat a wide-array of symptoms and mental illnesses, including depression, anxiety and Serious Mental Illnesses (SMI) such as bipolar I & II, personality disorders, schizophrenia and more. 

To learn more, request a free consultation with a designated health connector or visit 

More than Just the Holiday Blues: Winter Depression, Stress & SAD


Holidays are known for being a joyful time of celebration and winter cheer. But for some, this isn’t the case. If you’re feeling extra stressed or sad during the holidays, you aren’t the only one. In fact, late fall and winter have some of the highest rates of depression—thanks to stress, loneliness and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).


What is SAD?

While feeling down due to shorter days and less daylight in the fall and winter can be common, Seasonal Affective Disorder occurs in cases where “…these mood changes are more serious and can affect how a person feels, thinks and handles daily activities,” according to the National Institute of Mental Health. 

SAD is considered to be a type of depression characterized by a recurring seasonal pattern, with depression symptoms lasting four to five months out of the year. People with major depression disorder, bipolar disorder type I and bipolar disorder type II are more likely to experience SAD.

Most of the symptoms of SAD are the same symptoms that occur in major depression, including:

  • Feeling depressed most days
  • Loss of interest in activities and hobbies you once enjoyed
  • Appetite or weight changes
  • Low energy levels or fatigue
  • Sleep issues
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Feeling worthless
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors


Additional seasonal specific symptoms of SAD include:

  • Oversleeping (a.k.a. hypersomnia)
  • An increased craving for carbohydrates
  • Overeating
  • Weight gain
  • Social withdrawal


For more information about SAD, as well as tips for treating SAD, click here.



What causes the “Holiday Blues”?

Other causes of the “holiday blues” a.k.a. increased stress and/or sadness during the holidays may include:

  • Increased financial stress
  • Family trauma
  • Social isolation
  • Grief
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Not being able to be with loved ones (family or friends) over the holidays
  • Over-commercialization of the holidays


Coping with the “Holiday Blues”

Check out this infographic from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is full of great tips for combating the holiday blues.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, or in need of some extra support this holiday season, consider therapy. Valera Health offers convenient telemental health services including therapy and psychiatry services. Visit or click here to learn more and schedule your free initial consultation with a designated Health Connector.