How is mental health related to sleep?

Last Updated on September 2, 2021

The majority of people know that sleep affects their mental state. There is a saying that someone in a bad mood woke up on the wrong side of the bed, and there is quite a bit of truth behind it. Sleep has been shown to have links to depression, anxiety, and other mental and emotional conditions.

Even though research is still ongoing, there is evidence to date showing a relationship between mental health and sleep. It can be challenging to fall asleep and stay that way when you may be struggling with a mental health disorder. Poor sleep can be a factor in the initiation and worsening of mental health issues.

Given the close association between sleep and mental health, there is strong reason to believe that improving sleep can have a positive effect on your mental health, as well. That’s why by the end of this guide we would try to explain:

  • How is mental health related to sleep?
  • How to improve both sleep and mental health?
  • What are the psychological effects of sleep deprivation?
  • How can you improve your sleep overall?
How is mental health related to sleep?

How is mental health related to sleep?

During sleep, brain activity varies between different sleep stages that make up our sleep cycle. Brain activity slows in the NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep stage, but there are possible quick bursts of energy. However, the REM sleep stage is associated with more intense dreaming because the brain activity picks up.

Each stage has a role to play in brain health, allowing activity in different parts of the brain to ramp up or down and enable better thinking, learning, and memory. According to research, brain activity during sleep has a profound effect on our emotional and mental health.

Adequate sleep (a.k.a. REM sleep) facilitates the brain’s processing of emotional information. It appears that lack of sleep is harmful to the consolidation of positive emotional content, as the brain works during sleep to evaluate and remember thoughts and memories. This can affect mood and emotional reactivity, as well as the risk of suicidal ideas or behaviours.

As a result, the traditional view that sleep issues were a symptom of mental health disorders is increasingly being called into question today. It is becoming clear that there is a relationship between sleep and mental health, meaning sleeping disturbances may be related to mental health problems.

For example, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a sleep disorder that has been linked to mental health. Sleep apnea involves pauses in breathing during rest and a reduction in the body’s oxygen levels, which can cause fragmented and disturbed sleep. OSA occurs more frequently in people with psychiatric conditions and may detract from their physical health and heighten their risk of serious mental distress.

With that said, further research is needed to identify the diverse connections between rest and mental health. The existing evidence shows a relationship that can be influenced by various factors in different people.

How to improve both sleep and mental health?

How to improve both sleep and mental health?

Mental health conditions can disrupt sleep and vice versa. Treatment for both rest and mental health issues can go hand-in-hand because of the complex relationship between them. A preventative mental health strategy may even include steps to improve sleep, such as creating a sleep schedule and changing your sleep hygiene.

Treatments for mental health and sleep problems depend on the person. Your quality of life can be affected by these conditions, so it is essential to receive proper care from a trained health professional.

The potential benefits and risks of different treatments can be reviewed by a doctor or a psychiatrist. Specific care can be provided in situations with multiple co-occurring physical or mental issues. For example, benefits for mental health might be offered by a diagnosis and treatment of an underlying condition such as sleep apnea.

The following sections detail some approaches that are considered to help with the issue at hand. They are the following:

Cognitive behavioural therapy

Cognitive behavioural therapy, also called CBT, is a type of counselling known as talk therapy. It works by looking at patterns of thinking and trying to change negative thoughts into positive ones.

Different types of CBT have been developed for various disorders like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. There is a proven track record of reducing sleeping problems with the help of CBT in insomnia sufferers. A large clinical trial shows that cognitive behavioural therapy can reduce symptoms of many mental health conditions and improve your emotional well-being.

For patients with sleep and mental health problems, help from a trained counsellor can meaningfully improve both their sleep and mental state. Because if your mental state is better, you will rest more peacefully at night.

Better sleep habits

Poor sleep hygiene is often the cause of sleeping issues and disturbances. Increasing sleep hygiene by cultivating habits and setting a calming bedroom environment that is good for your rest and can also help reduce sleep disruptions. There are steps that can be taken for a healthier sleep routine, like having a set bedtime and maintaining a steady sleep schedule. Finding comfort and support from your mattress, pillows, and bedding is also crucial.

Also, it would be best if you avoid alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine in the late afternoon and in the evening, without forgetting to do some exercise, drink some herbal tea and get natural light exposure during the daytime. Finally, you should block out excess light and leave all electronics at least an hour before bed. 

The process of finding the best routines and bedroom arrangements can take some time, but it can help you fall asleep quickly and stay asleep through the night.

What are the psychological effects of sleep deprivation?

What are the psychological effects of sleep deprivation?

There are more than 70 types of sleeping disorders. Insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea, and various movement syndromes and narcolepsy are some of the most common sleep disorders. The prevalence and impact of sleep disorders can be different. Researchers have long believed that both sleep disorders and psychiatric problems are related. Let’s take a closer look at the most common conditions:

Depression

Research that uses different methods and populations estimates that 65% to 90% of adult patients with depression, and about 90% of children, typically experience some kind of sleep issues. The majority of patients with depression have insomnia, but some suffer from sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea.

Insomnia and other sleep problems increase the risk of developing depression. A longitudinal study of about 1,000 adults ages 21 to 30 found that those who reported a history of insomnia during an interview are four times more likely to develop depression by the time of a second interview three years later. Two longitudinal studies in young people, one involving 300 pairs of young twins and over 1000 teenagers, found that sleep problems developed before major depression did.

Patients with depression are more likely to have sleep problems and be affected by rest. In addition, studies show that depressed patients with insomnia are less likely to respond to treatment than those who don’t have it. 

Anxiety

Sleep problems affect more than 50% of adult patients with generalized anxiety disorder and are common in individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Also, they are common among children and adolescents. For example, a sleep laboratory study showed that children with an anxiety disorder took longer to fall asleep and slept less deeply than healthy children.

Insomnia may also be a risk factor for developing an anxiety disorder, but it isn’t as significant as depression. The longitudinal study of teenagers showed that sleep problems preceded anxiety disorders 27% of the time, while depression preceded them 69% of the time.

However, the symptoms of anxiety disorders can be worsened by insomnia. In addition, lack of sleep may contribute to the retention of negative emotional memories and prevent patients from benefiting from fear-extinguishing therapies.

Bipolar disorder

Studies show that a majority of patients (around 70%) experience insomnia or less need for sleep during manic episodes of bipolar disorder. In bipolar depression, however, studies report that 23% to 78% of patients can sleep excessively, which leads to hypersomnia, while others may experience restless sleep and constant wakings.

Longitudinal studies show that insomnia and other sleep problems can worsen before an episode of mania or depression. They can even trigger one. Sleep problems can affect moods and contribute to relapse.

ADHD

Various sleep problems affect 25% to 50% of kids with ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). Difficulties falling asleep, shorter sleep duration, and restless slumber are some of the typical problems that can occur. Unfortunately, it may be hard to distinguish the symptoms of both sleeping difficulties and attention deficit disorder.

Sleep-disordered breathing, restless legs syndrome, and periodic limb movement disorder combined affect up to 36% of the population. Even if they don’t meet the diagnostic criteria for attention deficit disorder, children with sleeping disorders can become uncontrollable and unstable. That’s why if your child is having trouble sleeping, you should speak with your paediatrician as soon as possible.

How can you improve your sleep?

How can you improve your sleep?

There are many things you can do to make yourself more relaxed and ready for bed. For example, you can establish a regular, relaxing sleep routine that will send a signal to your brain when it’s time for bed. Also, bedrooms with a dark, cool and quiet feel are easier to fall asleep in.

As we’ve mentioned earlier, try to exercise regularly but avoid vigorous activities near bedtime if it affects your rest. We highly advise you to stay away from caffeine and alcohol before bed since it can lead to many multiple wakings and disturbances. 

Don’t use your bed for anything other than sex or sleep, which is what it’s generally meant for. It’s best if you associate your bed with rest. In the evening, don’t use electronics that emit blue light, such as smartphones and tablets. The light from the screen can have a negative effect on your rest, while social media and games can make you anxious.

Lastly, if you can’t sleep, don’t worry about it. Just get up and do something relaxing, such as listening to music or reading a book, until you feel sleepy.

Bottom line

Poor sleep may be a symptom of an existing psychological condition, but sleep problems are also thought to cause or contribute to the start of different mental illnesses. To protect your health and wellbeing, you should address sleep problems early on. If your sleep issues continue, you need to talk to a doctor about lifestyle changes that promote a good night’s rest since an underlying sleep disorder or a medical condition might be the cause.

We hope we were able to answer the how and why, and now it’s our turn to hear from you if any questions regarding the subject were left unanswered. If you want to share some information, we would gladly hear about it in the comments below.

Isabelle Harris
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