We’re aware that the amount of sleep we get directly impacts our mood. When we don’t get enough sleep, we wake up groggy, irritable, and in an overall bad mood. But does a lack of sleep have more dire consequences on our mental health, apart from a temporary change in our mood? Our article on the link between mental health and sleep directly explores this question and attempts to answer whether failing to get enough quality sleep can have a significant impact on our mental health.
We’ve also explored if the reverse is true – if certain mental health disorders affect the amount of sleep, as well as the quality of sleep we’re getting. Apart from detailed, science-backed explorations on these topics, we’ve also included a section where we share our best tips to improve your sleep and, consequently, your mental health, as well as an FAQ section.
Is There a Link Between Our Mental Health and Sleeping Patterns?
Most of us have wondered if our sleeping pattern is affecting our health, especially if it’s not at its best. Some of us have also made the possible connection between our mental health and our current sleeping schedule, including the amount of sleep we’re getting, so let’s see what the science says.
How Our Sleep Affects Our Mental Health
As we all know, our brain goes through several different sleeping stages each night. Together, these sleeping stages make one sleep cycle. If we monitor our brain activity, we can see what exactly happens during each stage of sleep. Some of the most crucial processes in our body are regulated, and if any of these stages gets interrupted at one point, our overall health starts to suffer. Some of these processes include our immune system function, memory storage, problem-solving, filtering out information in our brain, and muscle building.
There are also processes that directly affect our mental health, such as emotional regulation. If your brain fails to process all the emotional input it’s received throughout the day due to lack of sleep, it can deprive you of a plethora of positive emotions. Emotional fluctuations can lead to an increase in cortisol – the stress hormone in our bodies – which, if released in large doses over a long period, it negatively impacts both our mental health and our sleeping patterns.
Multiple studies confirm that any disturbance of these sleep stages could have a negative impact on our health. Not only that, but failing to get enough sleep every night can make you more prone to suffering from an episode if you’re already diagnosed with a certain mental health disorder.
How Our Mental Health Affects Our Sleep
We already saw that a lack of sleep could worsen our mental health, but the opposite is also true. Sleeping problems can also be a consequence of some mental health problems we might be struggling with.
One clear instance of this phenomenon is depression. Depression is known to worsen our sleeping patterns and increases our chances of experiencing insomnia. This leads to a chronic lack of sleep, which, in turn, worsens our depression.
In addition to depression, anxiety can also negatively affect our sleep. There are various types of anxiety disorders, such as panic disorder and general anxiety disorder, but what they all have in common is that they induce anxious thoughts. If we’re constantly preoccupied with anxious thoughts, especially before we go to sleep, it could easily lead to episodes of insomnia and make it almost impossible for us to go to sleep. Just like with depression, a lack of sleep also contributes to increased anxiety, making this loop very hard to break.
Another disorder that can negatively affect our sleep is bipolar disorder. It’s characterised by two very distinct phases: a manic period and a depressive period. During the manic period, those who suffer from bipolar disorder might find themselves not needing a lot of sleep and they might be more energized than usual. This could easily cause them to sleep less than they should because of the perceived high energy levels.
Seasonal Affective Disorder
Just like the disorders mentioned above, seasonal affective disorder has also been associated with poor sleeping patterns. People who suffer from seasonal affective disorder experience changes in mood and emotions with the change of seasons. For instance, during the winter, when the days are shorter, they’re prone to oversleeping. Even though we don’t usually associate oversleeping with having a poor sleep hygiene, oversleeping can cause a whole host of negative side effects and is just as harmful as not getting enough sleep. Some of the negative side effects associated with oversleeping include obesity, heart disease, headaches, and, ironically, a lack of energy.
If you notice that your sleep tends to get worse with the change of seasons, or you start to notice a shift in your mood when autumn and winter arrive, it might be a sign that you’re suffering from seasonal affective disorder.
A large percentage of people who suffer from PTSD fail to have an adequate sleeping schedule and get enough sleep. In fact, studies show that 70-91% of patients who are diagnosed with PTSD have difficulty falling and staying asleep. They’re more likely to experience night terrors, which significantly disturbs their sleeping patterns and sleep cycles. On top of that, they might experience flashbacks or have trouble falling asleep with the lights off, which further disturbs their sleep.
ADHD is a common mental health disorder which manifests itself with symptoms such as being unable to concentrate on a given task, talking without stopping, and inability to sit still. One not as known side effect of experiencing ADHD is insomnia.
We know that ADHD is frequently diagnosed in children, so children are quite prone to experiencing some sleep-related side effects from this disorder. In some cases, there are instances of sleepwalking and breathing difficulties that occur as a result of ADHD. It’s no secret that getting enough quality sleep is crucial for every child, so it’s important to consult a doctor if you think your child isn’t getting enough sleep as a result of their ADHD.
Both children and adults who are diagnosed with ADHD have a hard time staying asleep for long stretches of time, which, in turn, affects their overall sleep quality. At the same time, failing to get enough sleep exasperates symptoms of ADHD.
While not as common as anxiety and depression, schizophrenia is another mental health disorder which significantly impacts our overall sleep quality. Those who suffer from schizophrenia have a hard time differentiating between reality and what isn’t real.
There are various reasons why schizophrenia and poor sleep quality are so closely linked. Firstly, some medication used to treat schizophrenia can cause sleep problems. In addition, people who are diagnosed with schizophrenia frequently report that they’re unable to fall asleep at night, so they’re more likely to suffer from insomnia. Just like most of the mental health disorders we mentioned above, not getting enough deep sleep every night can worsen the symptoms of schizophrenia, creating a negative feedback loop.
Reasons Why Your Sleep Might Be Disturbed
If you’re noticing that your lack of sleep has started to affect your mental health, here are some of the most common reasons why you’re not getting enough sleep or why your sleep might be disturbed.
Many night shifts are to blame for poor sleep patterns. Those who work primarily night shifts are more prone to suffering from sleep disorders. Sleeping during the day messes with our melatonin production and our biological clocks, so it’s no wonder why night shifts cause havoc on our sleep. Unfortunately, there’s little to nothing we can do in regards to this issue, so do your best to get quality sleep during the day.
Some medications can increase the probability of us suffering from sleep disorders, or disturb our sleep patterns. Some of these medications include antidepressants and blood pressure medication. If you suspect that your medication is to blame for your sleep disruptions, consult your doctor.
Certain lifestyle choices can keep us up at night. Drinking too much alcohol before bed, drinking copious amounts of coffee throughout the day, eating heavy meals in the evening, and working out later in the night have all been associated with disrupted sleep. If you’ve implemented some of these habits and lifestyle changes recently and you’ve noticed a negative change in your sleep, they could easily be the cause of your sleep disruptions.
As we grow older, we become more prone to suffering from sleep disorders. The quality of our sleep decreases as we age, but so does our need for sleep – elders typically require about six hours of sleep per night, which is quite lower than the amount a healthy adult needs.
How Many Hours of Sleep Do I Need for Better Mental Health?
We examined the link between lack of sleep and our mental health, and the consensus is clear – not getting enough sleep is linked to improper emotional regulation and exasperated symptoms of mental health disorders. Knowing this, it’s only natural to wonder how many hours of sleep we should get if we want our mental health to remain intact.
The general recommendation from the National Sleep Foundation is that we shouldn’t get less than 7 hours of sleep. However, it’s important to note that this number doesn’t apply to everyone. The amount of sleep you need depends largely on your age, your genetic makeup, and your lifestyle. For instance, athletes need more sleep than the average person due to the physical strains on their body on a daily basis. At the same time, those who have a healthy diet and follow an exercise regime might get away with sleeping fewer hours than it’s recommended without noticing any of the negative side effects.
Genetics also determine how much sleep you need to feel your best. In addition, they also influence whether you identify as a night owl or an early bird, which can significantly impact the amount of sleep you’re getting, depending on your particular schedule.
So, what’s the final verdict? For most people, sticking to seven to nine hours of sleep is more than enough to fuel the body and maintain good mental health. As with most health-related things, it might take some trial and error to see what works best for you.
Tips for Improving Your Sleep and Your Mental Health
Our mental health plays a role in the way we sleep, just like a lack of sleep has been proven to negatively affect our mental health. So, how can we improve our sleep to ensure that our mental health remains intact? Here are our best tips.
Ensure That Your Sleeping Environment Isn’t to Blame
One commonly overlooked reason why we struggle to fall asleep at night is our bedroom environment. This includes things such as our lighting, temperature, and whether there’s any noise coming from outside.
In terms of lighting, it’s best to sleep in the dark to promote healthy melatonin production. When it comes to the temperature in our room, it’s best to keep it slightly chilly, so 19 to 20 degrees Celsius is ideal. Needless to say, noise disrupts our sleep and can prevent us from falling back asleep, so try to minimize any noise sources coming from inside or outside the bedroom.
Maintain a Consistent Sleeping Schedule
Many of us have flexible working schedules, which can sometimes cause us to have chaotic sleeping patterns. One of the easiest ways to improve your quality of sleep is to start having a consistent sleeping schedule, which includes going to bed at the same time and getting up at the same time, day in and day out. If you’re not used to doing this, you might find it difficult to fall asleep at a set time every night, but with a little patience, you will get there and start noticing incredible changes in your sleep quality.
Relax Before Bed
Many of us have bedtime routines that can include a myriad of different activities. If you haven’t included any relaxing activities in your bedtime routine, take this as a sign to do so. Not only will this decrease your overall stress levels, but it will also help you fall asleep faster. Some activities you could try including in your bedtime routine are journaling, meditation, light stretches, reading, or doing some breathing exercises. If you want to start your morning on a calm note, you could also include some of these in your morning routine.
Invest in Quality Bedding
The bedding we sleep on also affects our quality of sleep. Therefore, ensure that your bedding provides you with sufficient comfort and support to avoid waking up in the middle of the night from any aches or pains. If your current mattress isn’t providing adequate support, it might be time to ask yourself if the firmness level is right or if it needs replacing. If you don’t want to invest in a new mattress, you always have the option of purchasing a mattress topper. This will add a new level of comfort and support without breaking the bank.
If you find that your mental health is negatively affecting your sleep schedule, you might want to consider seeing a therapist. Going to therapy, especially cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), is one of the best and safest ways to improve the impact of mental health disorders on our sleep and the subsequent symptoms, like anxious thoughts.
Talking it out with a therapist can help you verbalise what you’re struggling with, which will make it easier for you to find a solution. You’ll also learn some invaluable tips and techniques that will help you cope with some symptoms you might be experiencing. For instance, you might learn new breathing techniques that will help you fall asleep at night when you’re tossing and turning in bed.
Why Does a Lack of Sleep Affect Mental Health?
We go through several different sleeping stages at night which fall into two categories: non-REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and REM sleep. During these stages, many important processes occur in our bodies, such as memory storage, emotional regulation, muscle building, and immune system regulation. Having a disrupted sleep schedule and getting poor quality sleep on a regular basis can result in impaired cognitive functions, such as problem-solving and improper emotional regulation, which, in turn, directly affects our mental health.
How Does Sleep Affect Your Mood?
Failing to get enough sleep has a significant impact on our mood. Sleep-deprived individuals are shown to be prone to negative emotions, such as irritability, anger, and even sadness. At the same time, their capacity to experience positive emotions diminishes.
We hope you found our article on the link between mental health and sleep interesting and useful.
To sum up, multiple studies have shown that there’s a palpable link between the amount of sleep and the quality of sleep we get, and the state of our mental health. Failing to get enough sleep directly impacts our sleep cycles, and any disturbances to our sleep cycles can result in bad emotional regulation, inhibited cognitive processing, and a plethora of other processes that impact our mental health.
The reverse is also true – certain mental health disorders, like anxiety, depression, ADHD, and schizophrenia, result in disrupted sleeping patterns, not getting enough deep sleep, inability to fall asleep at night, and other negative side effects that affect our sleep quality. Ultimately, we should aim to get enough sleep every night to close the negative loop. How many hours of sleep you should get depends on your lifestyle, genetics, and your age, but the scientific consensus is that you should aim to get a minimum of seven hours of sleep every night.
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