In their continuing efforts to connect rural Americans across the country with existing mental health resources, Rural Minds recently partnered with the National Grange to present a webinar titled “Mental Health Benefits of Sleep, Nutrition, Exercise and Mindfulness.” (View the entire webinar and learn more by clicking here.)

In the first part of the Country Folks series on this informative session, we covered the benefits of exercise and nutrition; in this article, an expert presented on the “strong and striking relationship between sleep and salubrity.” (Salubrity means favorable to or promoting health or well-being.)

Joseph Dzierzewski, Ph.D., is the vice president of Research & Scientific Affairs at the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), an independent nonprofit dedicated to improving overall health and well-being by advancing sleep health.

Dzierzewski said the NSF conducts an annual “Sleep in America” poll to discover how the country is sleeping. He said the most recent one was a nationally representative, probability-based sample of U.S. adults, 18% of whom were rural. They used the Sleep Health Index® (related to sleep behaviors), the Sleep Satisfaction Tool® (related to perceptions of sleep and how people felt during the day) and the Best Slept Self® questionnaire (how often people engage in healthy sleep behaviors) for the poll’s results.

All the information gathered was utilized in conjunction with the PHQ-9, a tool that assists clinicians with identifying and diagnosing depression (but is not a substitute for diagnosis by a trained clinician).

Rural America’s sleep health needs attention“Rural America’s sleep health needs attention,” Dzierzewski stated. “The situation could be improved.” His reasoning: 31% of rural respondents graded their sleep health at B, 19% at C, 14% at D and 16% at F (which averaged a C). Their sleep satisfaction was the bigger issue, though – 22% graded it at D, and 52% at F.

On average, rural adults reported sleeping only six hours and 44 minutes per night. The NSF recommends between seven and nine hours a night.

“When we look at these data in conjunction with the PHQ-9, asking specifically about depressive symptoms, one out of every three rural respondents said they experience mild or greater depressive symptoms,” Dzierzewski reported. “The probable diagnosis of a depressive order was 14%, or one out of every six or seven respondents – very high numbers, suggesting that depression is common and more attention is needed.”

Per the poll, almost six in 10 rural adults who simply said they were dissatisfied with their sleep also had elevated levels of depressive symptoms. Even having difficulty falling or staying asleep just two nights a week correlated with higher depressive symptoms.

“There is a strong and striking relationship between our sleep health and our mental health,” Dzierzewski said.

There is some good news, though – 87% of rural adults with very good overall sleep health say they have no significant depressive symptoms.

What can rural residents – especially farmers – do to improve their sleep? The “Sleep in America” poll found that 90% of rural adults who engage in high levels of healthy sleep behaviors, like those outlined in the NSF’s Best Slept Self framework, have no significant depressive symptoms. The framework includes daytime and evening tips.

Daytime keys include:

  • Light – Spend time in bright light during the day (especially in the morning hours) – either natural light or artificial light of equivalent brightness
  • Exercise – Do so regularly for a deeper sleep, aiming for 30 minutes a day five days a week
  • Mealtimes – Eat meals at consistent times day after day

Nighttime keys include:

  • Avoidance – Try to avoid heavy meals, nicotine, caffeine and alcohol before bed
  • Wind down – Use a consistent routine with a relaxing wind down to help you get the recommended hours of sleep each night – and aim for similar sleep and wake times each day
  • Environment – Put devices away an hour before bed and sleep in a quiet, cool and dark space

Dzierzewski understands that all these things aren’t possible for everyone. Interrupted sleep happens when the baby is crying, the cows are calving or a storm moves in suddenly.

“Sleep happens best when your body is ready for sleep – if you’re trying to split your sleep into two parts, it’s not ideal. But still try to get the general amount of sleep you need, even if it’s split up,” he said.

For more information on sleep health, visit

If you’re experiencing a mental health crisis, the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day by calling or texting 988.

by Courtney Llewellyn