How Sleep Affects Your Mental Health
The mantra of today's urban society often seems to be: "Sleep is for the weak!"
In the United States, in particular, we are notoriously sleep-deprived and known for our "work hard, play hard" lifestyle. But as more advancements in sleep research occur, even Americans are beginning to acknowledge the effects of poor sleep -- not just on our physical functioning but psychological and mental health, too.
Even otherwise-healthy people can experience adverse effects due to poor sleep. Who among us has not experienced firsthand how sleep can affect our mood and mental state?
Lack of sleep makes us feel more irritable and exhausted, but it also has long-term consequences.
The relationship between sleep and mental health is complex.
Traditionally, sleep problems were seen as symptoms of mental conditions. However, recent research suggests a more causal role between sleep habits and the development and maintenance of mental health problems.
Sleep deprivation can lead to changes in mental health, and mental health conditions can also trigger and worsen problems with sleep, such as insomnia. Thus, treating a sleep disorder can also alleviate or improve a co-occurring mental issue.
Depression & Anxiety
Depression is a mood disorder characterized by feelings of sadness and hopelessness. It is suffered by some 300 million people worldwide, with about 75% of them showing symptoms of insomnia and/or hypersomnia (daytime sleepiness).
Anxiety, the condition of excessive fear or worry that affects everyday life, is suffered by 20% of the population. Anxious concerns and fears create hyperarousal in the mind, making it a main contributor to insomnia.
Instead of being just a consequence or symptom, recent studies have shown that sleep problems may induce or worsen anxiety. Poor sleep enhances feelings of paranoia, worsening nightmares and depression. Chronic insomniacs are at high risk of developing an anxiety disorder.
Schizophrenia & Psychotic Episodes
Schizophrenia is a mental health condition defined by a difficulty in differentiating what is real or not.
- Sufferers often experience insomnia and circadian rhythm disorders.
- Sleep deprivation can exaggerate hallucinations and psychotic episodes that will gradually progress towards psychosis.
- Sleep problems may be exacerbated by the medications used to treat schizophrenia.
This condition is characterized by alternating periods of exaggerated elevated and depressive moods.
People suffering bipolar disorder tend to experience more vivid dreams, nightmares and night terrors. During periods of high (or mania), sufferers may be so mentally aroused that they can go for days without sleep and without feeling tired. During periods of lows, the inverse is reported.
A causal relationship isn't proven, but sleep disturbances in BPD have been linked with changes in the microstructure of the white matter of the brain. Sleep problems are the most common signal that a manic period is about to occur, and sleep deprivation or jet lag can trigger manic episodes.
How to Improve your Mental Health & Sleep Quality
Improving sleep quality and sleep habits is tightly intertwined with managing and minimizing mental health issues.
The first step would be to focus on your mental health by reducing stress and anxiety as much as possible in your life. Direct your stress elsewhere rather than dwelling on it, and use relaxation techniques to keep your mind off your worries and fears.
Find time for yourself and do things that you enjoy -- soul-soothing activities like yoga, meditation or even traveling to the beach or the mountains.
Talk to someone, such as a friend or family member, about anything bothering you. If you think it helps, consider seeing a doctor or therapist.
Finally, make sleep a top priority. Having good-quality sleep in adequate amounts lets you recharge your mind and body, improving your overall focus and mood.
Here are 6 pragmatic tips on how to sleep more soundly:
- Block out 7 to 9 hours of interrupted sleep and establish a regular sleep-wake cycle. We all have a circadian rhythm, so try to sleep and wake up at standard times consistently -- including weekends.
- Limit the use of stimulants, caffeine, alcohol and nicotine, especially for two hours before bedtime.
- Establish a regular and relaxing nighttime routine. Set the mood and atmosphere to get ready for bed. Regulate noise, light and temperature to be prepared for sleep.
- Use your bedroom for sleeping -- not for work! Avoid blue light coming from the screens of your electronic devices at night. Computers, mobiles and tablets should be off-limits in bed before sleep, as it interferes with your circadian rhythm.
- Exercise regularly -- but not too late in the evening. This will help you sleep better.
- Have a high-quality sleep surface that helps alleviate your symptoms and promotes restorative sleep.
Your Brain on Sleep, Demystified!
There is still a lot to learn about the relationship between sleep and mental health, but this much is clear: Studies strongly support that a good night's sleep fosters both emotional and mental resilience.
Conversely, lack of sleep can cause a host of mental problems. Chronic sleep deprivation sets the stage for stress, emotional upset and mental vulnerability.
If you want to understand your sleep even better, our Majestic Beds Team is here to help! Feel free to contact us to speak with our Sleep Experts. We can help you find the best sleep solution for your needs.