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The relationship between sleep and mental health

The relationship between sleep and mental health

  • October 16, 2021
Man enjoys sleep

Everyone has poor sleep from time to time, but if this is the norm it can be problematic. Your sleep and mental health are linked in many ways, and if one is not doing well, the other can follow suit.

How Mental Health Affects Sleep

Poor mental health can negatively affect sleep in a number of ways. Feeling stressed or afraid of something can not only cause a poor sleep, but sleep problems are also viewed as symptoms of various mental disorders.

People with mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and schizophrenia traditionally have a harder time falling asleep and also spend less time sleeping during normal bedtime.1 One reason for this connection could be how mental disorders affect the brain and its function.

Changes in brain activity and hormone levels associated with emotional dysregulation have been linked to sleep deprivation. Similarly, many mental disorders cause abnormal changes in the brain involving the two hormones dopamine and serotonin, which also play important roles in circadian function and the neurobiology of sleep.1 This information suggests that the neurological changes in the brain due to mental health disorders could consequently negatively impact sleep.

In addition to the quality of sleep, mental disorders and dreams can also be related. People with mental disorders tend to report more nightmares or negative dreams. Similarly, those with “peace of mind” were much more likely to have positive dreams while awake.2

The effects of sleep on mental health

Although it is becoming increasingly clear that sleep and mental health are related, people originally thought that sleep problems were just symptoms of various mental disorders. In reality, a good night’s sleep is necessary for both your physical and mental health. While researchers are still working to fully understand how sleep affects the brain, sleep is important for mental health.

Not only does lack of sleep lead to problems such as memory impairment and poor cardiovascular health, but sleep deprivation and mental health are also related. Lack of sleep increases self-reported anxiety and depression, as well as general stress.3.4

Along with decreasing a person’s overall emotional well-being, sleep problems can also increase the risk of someone developing a mental disorder or even worsening a person’s existing condition. People with insomnia are 5 times more likely to develop depression and 20 times more likely to develop panic disorder than people who get adequate sleep.5

Coupled with the negative effects of poor sleep on mental health, sleep interventions can also improve a person’s mental health. A study of insomnia and mental health in young adults found that improvements in sleep led to a reduction in paranoia, hallucinations, anxiety, and depression.6th This research suggests that sleep interventions could be an important part of mental health management.

Tips to Improve Sleep (and Mental Health)

Because sleep and mental health are linked in different ways, getting a good night’s sleep is not always easy, but it is important for both your physical and mental health. If you have a mental illness, in particular, improving the quality of your sleep can also help alleviate your symptoms.

First, try these sleeping tips:

  • Avoid caffeine later in the day or at night
  • Don’t eat large meals before bed
  • Exercise regularly, but not right before bed
  • Meditate or practice mindfulness to relieve stress
  • Develop a relaxing routine before bed (writing a journal, breathing exercises, light stretching, etc.)
  • Avoid taking naps during the day
  • Develop and stick to a regular sleep schedule
  • Keep your room dark and cool
  • Do not use electronics right before bed
  • Get cognitive behavior therapy

While these tips for getting better sleep can help you feel more rested, they may not improve your mental health overnight or may not be enough to significantly reduce mental illness symptoms.

If you’re still having problems, it’s okay to ask for help. At Vertava Health we offer a variety of treatment programs to help you better manage your mental health and improve your overall wellbeing. Contact us today to speak confidentially with a member of our care team and get started.

Thank You For Reading!


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