We all know how vital sleep is to our physical wellbeing, but how are sleep and mental health related?
The quality and quantity of sleep we get each night can affect how we feel during the day. Get a good sleep and we wake up feeling refreshed, and ready to greet the day. But wake up from a bad sleep and chances are we feel lethargic, foggy and cranky.
Sleep and mental health – the connection
While there is a lot we don’t know about sleep, there is a clear link between sleep and the state of our mental health.
Several brain processes take place while we sleep, including memory consolidation and processing information from across the day. Inadequate sleep or poor sleep can impact mental health, leading to depression, anxiety, irritability and emotional instability.
During the night we go through several sleep cycles of around 90 minutes, including REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM sleep. REM sleep is the phase of sleep where most dreaming occurs and it’s in this phase where we consolidate information and learning. However, scientists have found that disrupting these natural cycles increases hormone levels and impairs our natural ability to regulate our emotions. Those who are chronically sleep deprived are more prone to negative thinking and are at risk of developing depression and anxiety disorders.
The impact of sleep deprivation
Research has also shown that lack of sleep, particularly that caused by sleep disorders such as insomnia, sleep apnoea, movement syndromes and narcolepsy, may increase the risk for some people developing certain mental illnesses, including depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, and ADHD. To make it even more complicated, having a mental illness also increases the likelihood of poor sleep patterns.
For example, anxiety has been shown to cause sleep problems, while around 65% – 90% of adults with major depression have problems sleeping. For children with depression that figure is even higher with 90% of them experiencing difficulties with their sleep.[i]
Signs that your sleep is inadequate
Signs that you’re not getting enough sleep include:
- lower concentration span and alertness
- inability to focus
- lower productivity
- reduced problem-solving ability
- memory problems
- low mood
What can you do?
While mental illness is a complex area, it’s clear that improving sleep patterns can help improve mood and overall mental health.
If you suffer from poor mood make sleep a priority in your life and practice good sleep hygiene. This means:
- Develop a good sleep routine by going to bed and waking at the same time of the day
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol and other stimulants like nicotine before bedtime
- Exercise regularly, taking care it’s not too close to bedtime
- Ensure you don’t go to bed hungry, but take care not to overeat
- Limit screen time in the hours before you go to sleep
- Do relaxing activities before bed such as reading, meditation, listening to music or having a bath
- Make sure your bedroom is dark, well-ventilated, at a comfortable temperature, and quiet
- Ensure your mattress is comfortable and supportive.
Of course, if you’re concerned about your mental health, or your mood doesn’t improve, see your doctor.
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