The quality of your sleep and your mental health are very closely connected. Most people believe that sleep deprivation only affects our physical health, but the fact is that it also severely affects our psychological state and mental health. Studies even show that those suffering from mental health issues are more likely to experience insomnia or other sleep disorders.
Chronic sleep problems affect from 50% to 80% of patients in psychiatric practice, and only 10% to 18% of adults in the general United States population. Sleep problems are particularly experienced by those who are fighting depression, anxiety, ADHD, and bipolar disorder. In the past, clinicians saw insomnia and other sleep problems as a symptom of mental disease. However, newer studies suggest that sleep problems can directly contribute to the development of some psychiatric disorders and that treating a sleep disorder may help to alleviate some of the symptoms of the co-occurring mental health issue.
The Connection between Sleep and Mental Health
The relationship between our brain and our mental health is not entirely understood, but research shows that a good night’s sleep is vital for mental and emotional resilience. On the other hand, sleep disturbances and sleep deprivation set the stage for negative thinking and emotional vulnerability.
So far, researchers have established a stable connection between sleep problems and mental health, and have proven that sleep disorders affect patients with mental health issues more than people in the general population. Sleep problems increase the risk for developing specific mental diseases, and treating the sleep disorder will significantly help to alleviate the symptoms of the mental health problem.
How Sleep Affects Mental Health
During sleep, we go through multiple sleep stages. Initially, one sleep cycle lasts around 90 minutes. Every 90 minutes, you will change a sleep cycle, but as sleep progresses, the length of time spend in each sleep stage will vary.
During non-REM sleep, also known as “quiet” sleep, you will go through four different stages of deep sleep. Your body temperature will drop, your muscles will relax, and your breathing and heart rate will slow down. Deep sleep nourishes your physical health, such as helping to boost your immune system functioning.
REM sleep also known as rapid eye movement is a sleep stage when people dream. Your blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, and body temperature levels are very similar to when you are awake. REM sleep contributes to emotional health and enhances learning and memory.
Scientists have discovered that sleep deprivation affects levels of neurotransmitters and stress hormones which may wreak havoc in the brain, impair your thinking and emotional regulation. In this way, sleep disorders may intensify the symptoms of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, bipolar disorder, and ADHD.
Psychological Effects of Sleep Deprivation
Sleep is vital for optimal mental health. During sleep, the brain processes information and consolidates memories learned and experienced during the day.
Chronic sleep deprivation can inhibit productivity, slow down your thought processes, suppress creativity, increase irritability, impair concentration and coordination, and make learning very difficult.
Sleep deprived individuals are more likely to anger, become aggressive or depressed and they have more difficulties handling stress.
Chronic sleep deprivation can even induce hallucinations and trigger mania. However, mania is triggered only in individuals who are suffering from bipolar disorder.
Lack of sleep has similar mental effects as drinking – it impairs judgments, distorts thinking and slows down reaction time. As you can see, without a good night’s rest, it is impossible to function optimally during the day and successfully complete your daily activities.
Practical Tips to Sleep Better
1. Figure out your sleep efficacy
To determine you sleep efficacy, divide the number of hours slept by the number of hours spent in bed, and then multiply it by 100. A good sleep efficacy number is around 85. This number reveals if you’re giving your body enough time to relax and unwind at night or if you’re spending too much time in bed doing other things, like watching movies or reading.
2. Set good sleep behaviors
Having a consistent bed routine isn’t only beneficial to children, but to adults as well. The first step of improving your sleep is to try to go to bed and wake up at the same times each day. This helps your body set a regular rhythm and ensure you wake up refreshed every morning.
3. Get help if you need it
If you have troubles falling asleep at night for an extended period, don’t turn to OTC medication. Over-the-counter products can be used for occasional sleeplessness, but mustn’t be used on a daily basis. If you struggle to fall asleep at night, never hesitate to see your family doctor or visit a sleep clinic.
This post was written by Andrew Levacy. Andrew runs Memory Foam Talk, a site dedicated to unbiased mattress reviews. As someone fighting insomnia for years, his mission is to help people get a better night’s rest by facilitating the often long and painful decision of selecting a new mattress.