Doctors and researchers have understood the correlation between poor sleeping and mental health disorders for decades, but only recently have they begun to understand just how powerfully sleep and mental well-being are connected. Strong correlations have been made pointing to mental health disorders as the root cause for sleep struggles, but, as in turns out, sleep disorders may also be the root cause for various mental health disorders (chicken or the egg, anyone?) An article from Live Science titled, “Lack of Sleep May Be a Cause, Not a Symptom, of Mental Health Conditions”, quotes Daniel Freeman, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Oxford, who explained that “how well we sleep might actually play a role in our mental health… If you can sort out your sleep, you could also be taking a significant step forward in tackling a wide range of psychological and emotional problems.”
The Impact Of Sleep On Health And Wellbeing
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
An article from neurocorecenter.com explains that “various sleep problems affect 25 to 50 percent of children with ADHD”, with symptoms such as daytime tiredness and sleep-disordered breathing. For both children and adults, symptoms of ADHD and symptoms of sleep difficulty overlap so much that it is difficult to parse out which is a symptom of what.
- Anxiety disorders
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America explains that 1 in 13 people suffer from anxiety globally, and The World Health Organization reports that anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorder and among the most treatable disorders. The association between anxiety disorders and issues with sleep is extremely strong. Neurocorecenters.com explains that not only do “sleep concerns affect more than 50% of adults with a generalized anxiety disorder” but that “sleep deprivation also elevates the risk for anxiety disorders.”
- Bipolar Disorder
Verywellmind.com discusses the relationship between bipolar disorder and sleep, saying that issues with sleep and the presence of bipolar disorder is “very common” and that sleep plays an important role in the “cycling of the disorder”. The article continues to explain that night of poor sleep may actually “precipitate manic and hypomanic episodes”.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America states that “depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide.” Studies estimate that 65 to 90 percent of adults with clinical depression experience some difficulty with sleep (neurocorecenters.com).
A term used to signal a person’s dissociation with reality, psychosis can refer to multiple mental health disorders. Psychosis can mean that someone is experiencing hallucinations or paranoia, experiences that are also found in those suffering from extreme levels of sleep deprivation (Oxford Academic).
Lessening Sleep Deprivation and Its Effects on Your Mental Health
- Lifestyle changes
Making simple lifestyle changes can make a world of difference when it comes to your sleep life. Taking the initial leap into the world of self-improvement in terms of your sleep life is the most difficult part, but once you begin making steps towards improving your habits around sleep, you’ll see the rewards manifest tenfold.
- Physical activity
Something as simple as including more physical activity as part of your daily or weekly routine has proven benefits that can help your sleep and can also improve your mental wellbeing. Even if you are taking short, 20-30 minute walks during your day, or opting to take the stairs instead of the elevator, finding simple ways to get your body moving may make all of the difference.
- Sleep hygiene
Sleep hygiene refers to the habits and practices you have around sleep. If you have good sleep hygiene, it means that you are consistently practicing positive habits that help you when it’s time to doze off into dreamworld. Meditating, listening to soothing music, or taking a warm bath with essential oils may all be part of a sleep hygiene routine, or it can be as simple as eating a healthy diet, setting a regular bedtime, and avoiding caffeine after a certain time of day.
- Relaxation techniques
Experimenting with different techniques that you find relaxing is a great way to calm anxieties around sleep. What’s relaxing to some may not be to others, so it’s important to experiment and find what helps you most.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
The website, LiveScience, discusses a study of college students experiencing insomnia. They broke up the students into a control group and a group that received cognitive behavioral therapy. The results of the study found that after completing the therapy sessions, the group given cognitive behavioral therapy experienced less instances of insomnia, less hallucinations, decreased levels of depression and anxiety, and experienced better overall daily functioning. If you are having difficulties with nodding off at night, therapy may be an excellent way to recover your relationship with sleep.
Facts To Know About Sleep and Mental Health
- Sleep deprivation impairs our ability to think clearly
When we have gone days, weeks, months, or (hopefully this isn’t the case) years without getting a proper amount of sleep, we are drastically decreasing our quality of life. Poor sleep affects our memories, our attention span, and our ability to think clearly. “Brain fog” is symptomatic of sleep disorders, and it’s that sleepwalking-through-life feeling you get when you’re just not getting an adequate amount of rest.
- Driver fatigue can be as dangerous as driving intoxicated
The National Sleep Foundation explains that “being awake for 18 hours straight makes you drive like you have a blood alcohol level of .05 (for reference .08 is considered drunk).”
- Doctors have described more than 70 different types of sleep disorders
Insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and narcolepsy are the most common sleep disorders, which, among many others, tend to be untreated or misdiagnosed.
- Sleep concerns may be more likely to affect those with existing mental health conditions
Difficulty with sleep affects a majority of those living with psychiatric conditions and new research has begun to show the correlation between improved sleep and improved mental wellbeing.
- There are many symptoms associated with sleep deprivation
Symptoms associated with sleep deprivation may range from feeling drowsy all day, not feeling rested when you wake up, microsleeping, or difficulty falling or staying asleep. If you have one or more of these symptoms you may be experiencing extreme sleep deprivation or have a sleep disorder.
- Trouble sleeping is a symptom of depression
Often we think depression is associated with the inability to get out of bed, but, in truth, depression can also manifest as trouble getting to get any sleep at all. Neurocenters.com explains that 65-90 percent of adults suffering from clinical depression also experience some form of sleep difficulty. Typically it is insomnia but sleep apnea is a close second.
- Treatment for insomnia isn’t as simple as curing it with prescription sleep aids
Short term use of prescription sleeping pills may help insomnia in the beginning, but long term use may actually lower the effectiveness of the pill you take. As always, it’s important to talk to your doctor about the best and safest means to help fight sleeplessness.
More Ways to Cope With Sleep Problems
- Establish a routine
Just like little kids, our bodies crave consistency, even if we don’t realize it. By setting a regular bedtime and wake time, we are training our bodies to get sleepy at a certain time and feel ready to wake at a certain time. Maintaining this inner clock makes it way easier for our bodies to predict when certain sleepy hormones (such as melatonin) should be released to induce a relaxing night of sleep.
- Relax before you go to bed
So often we rush through life, trying to squeeze as much productivity out of our days as we can before succumbing to the inevitable exhaustion when our head finally hits the pillow. Taking a moment to pause, relax, and unwind, even if it’s just ten minutes before we finally lay down for sleep, can make all of the difference. The more you can separate yourself from the days work, which inevitably has to be left unfinished for tomorrow, the more likely you will have a restorative night of rest.
- Make sure where you sleep is comfortable
If your bedroom is too warm, pillows too chunky, neighbors too loud, or there’s a bee buzzing around, sleep will be elusive. Know what sort of pillow you need that best suits your sleep needs, use an eye mask and ear plugs if you live on a busy street or don’t have room darkening curtains; you are your own better-night-of-sleep advocate, so make your room as sleep-inducing as possible.
- Keep a sleep diary
If you’re really struggling with sleep, keeping a sleep diary could help pinpoint some key factors into whatever problems are happening at night. In the diary you can keep track of your bedtime, wake time, and nap time, keep track of what you ate for that day and if you exercised. You can also use your sleep diary as a spot to write down a handful of things that you are grateful for. If you focus your mind on the good things in life, you focus your energy on positivity and abundance. This can help put your mind at any easy, peaceful state that may make it much easier to find sleep.
- Try to resolve stresses and worries
If stress and worry are prominent reasons for your insomnia, it may be time to really pick these issues apart. It can be scary to stare your stressors in the face and begin to unpack exactly how to resolve the issues in your life, but your inability to sleep may be a wake up call that your body is trying to give you.
- Give yourself some tech-free time
The blue light emitted from screens (phones, TVs, tablets) doesn’t do our brains any good when we are trying to wind down for sleep. In fact, the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin, pauses its secretion if our bodies continue to be stimulated by bright lights. The presence of bright light signals to our brains that it’s still daylight outside. Shutting down the tech toys an hour (or even two!) before bed may really turn your sleep life around.
- Check for a physical cause
Difficulty with sleep is no laughing matter and may be a signal pointing to something a bit more serious than stress at work. Blood work may be suggested by your doctor to see if anything is physically out of balance in your body.
- Consider food, drink and exercise
Your diet and exercise may be huge factors that trigger bouts of insomnia. There are certain foods and drinks that may keep us awake, especially if they are overly fatty or contain a lot of sugar. Regularly getting your heart rate up is also an important piece in the sleep puzzle. Doing the day-to-day things that we know are healthy for maintaining a fit lifestyle can immensely improve sleep.
- Consider your medication
Certain medications could be disrupting your sleep. The National Sleep Foundation says that “some medications, including those for high blood pressure and asthma, can keep you up all night with insomnia, while others, like cough, cold, and flu medications, can disrupt sleep.” Keep this in mind when on the hunt for the root of your sleep troubles and talk to your doctor about ways to avoid medications that might be causing insomnia.
Sleep and Mental Health FAQ:
- Can lack of sleep affect your mood?
Lack of sleep can definitely affect your mood since sleep is a way that our hormones stay regulated. A poor night of sleep is related to next-day crankiness, which compounds after multiple nights or weeks.
- Can lack of sleep cause memory loss?
Memory loss is a classic symptom of sleep deprivation. Our brains do not have the necessary time to reset and rejuvenate our bodies when we aren’t getting the proper amount of rest.
- Can lack of sleep cause you to be emotional?
Unless you’ve gone through life with a record of perfect sleep (thank your lucky stars!), you’ve most likely experienced some sleep-deprived crankiness first hand. Sleep has a powerful impact on our mood and, as it turns out, the opposite is also true. Harvard Medical School website, Get Sleep explains that “anxiety increases agitation and arousal, which make it hard to sleep. Stress also affects sleep by making the body aroused, awake, and alert. People who are under constant stress or who have abnormally exaggerated responses to stress tend to have sleep problems.”
- Can lack of sleep make you depressed?
Get Sleep also explains that “chronic insomnia may increase the risk of developing a mood disorder, such as anxiety or depression.” So the short answer is yes, lack of sleep can increase your likelihood of being diagnosed with clinical depression.
- How does sleep affect the brain?
Good sleep helps to solidify memory, clear toxins associated with disease, helps improve cognitive function, improves physical and emotional health, among various other positive effects.
- How does sleep affect your memory?
A lack of sleep reduces your body’s ability to process and retain new memories. WebMD explains that “researchers believe sleep is required for consolidation of a memory, no matter the memory type. Without adequate sleep, your brain has a harder time absorbing and recalling new information.”
- How important is sleep to mental health?
Sleep is extremely important to mental health and the two are inexplicably tied to each other. If you suffer from a mental health disorder, your likelihood of having difficulties with sleep raise by about 50 percent. Sleep is so connected to mental health that researchers find the opposite may also be true. If you are struggling with sleep, you have a much higher chance of becoming diagnosed with a mental illness.
- Is sleep apnea a mental illness?
Sleep apnea is a medical disorder, but because it disrupts sleep patterns, it can be largely associated with changes in mental behaviors.
- Is sleep good for your metabolism?
Yes! Getting a good night of rest has been associated with better metabolisms and the ability to lose fat more easily.
- Is sleeping physical or mental?
It’s both! Getting a good night of sleep greatly affects both your body and your mind.
- What happens to your brain when you sleep?
Though science has not yet come to a concrete understanding of what purpose sleep serves in our lives, it is clear that many important physical and mental processes take place while we are asleep. A sort of mental “clean sweep” happens, cementing memories, clearing out toxins, and rebooting you for a new day.
- Why is it important to get sleep?
It is important to get sleep because it’s as essential to our health and well-being as eating well, drinking clean water, and breathing.
- Why sleep is important for mental health?
Studies have found that poor sleep habits and mental health disorders essentially come hand in hand. Getting an adequate amount of rest may be the difference in maintaining emotional and mental balance.