The Importance of Sleep
In navigating busy life schedules, people may choose to sacrifice sleep in the name of productivity. However, compromised sleep may lower productivity. Quality sleep is essential for the overall well-being of individuals. A lack of sleep can leave one feeling tired, and it can result in numerous physical and mental health consequences. Sleep deprivation affects cognitive functioning which can impair memory, influence personality, and increase depression. People lacking in sleep often struggle in decision-making, performance, and reaction time. Lack of sleep and poor sleep quality are associated with increased risk for diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. Research has also found links between lack of sleep and various mental health disorders.
How is Mental Health Related to Sleep?
The relationship between mental health and sleep is reciprocal. Sleep influences mental health, and mental health impacts sleep. This dual relationship is considered to be the result of emotional dysregulation, genetics, and disruption of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. During sleep, fluctuating brain activity allows for improved thinking, learning, and memory. Particularly, during the REM phase of sleep, the brain works to process emotional information including one’s memories, thoughts, and feelings. Lack of sleep prohibits this process which impacts mood and future experiences with emotion. The continuation of this experience has been linked to various mental health disorders (i.e., depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder) and suicidal tendencies.
On the other hand, mental health struggles make quality sleep difficult. For example, those with anxiety often find themselves awake late at night. Individuals with depression often find it difficult to stay awake and oversleep. In these situations, mental health struggles lead to poor sleep, which in turn, makes it difficult to improve these mental health conditions.
Types of Sleep Disorders
According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, approximately 1 out of 3 people in the United States report difficulty sleeping at least once a week. Some common sleep disorders include insomnia, sleep apnea, and narcolepsy.
- Insomnia is a sleep disorder where individuals have difficulty falling and staying asleep. Those with insomnia often find their sleep unfulfilling, wake up periodically throughout the night, and struggle during the day. Insomnia rarely exists in isolation and is often a symptom of another physical and/or psychological issue.
- Sleep apnea is a disorder in which the breathing of an individual is interrupted during sleep. Typically, sleep apnea is caused by a physical blockage of the airway. However, in some cases, the brain neglects to tell the body to breathe resulting in restlessness as the individual finds themselves waking gasping for air.
- Narcolepsy is a disorder that limits the ability to control the ability to sleep or stay awake. Those with narcolepsy experience “attacks”, in which they experience episodes of falling asleep during the day that they are not able to control.
Improving Sleep and Mental Health
The Mayo Clinic offers six action steps to achieve better sleep and, in turn, improve your mental health.
- It is important to follow a consistent sleep schedule
- Individuals should avoid going to bed hungry or full in addition to avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine before bedtime
- It is also important to create a space that allows for good sleep by removing light sources and setting a cool, comfortable temperature. Screen time should be limited in this environment.
- Naps should also be avoided or limited to no more than thirty minutes
- It is essential to engage in practices to reduce worries before bedtimes such as journaling, meditation, or breathing exercises.
Treatment of Insomnia
Initial efforts in treating insomnia should be attempting to engage in positive sleep habits and resolving any psychological or medical issues that may be contributing to insomnia. Other options include relaxation techniques, prescribed medication, and herbal remedies such as melatonin. Additional strategies include cognitive behavioral therapy and light therapy.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Do depression and anxiety affect sleep?
As described above, anxiety often makes falling and staying asleep difficult. Further, depression often results in insomnia or hypersomnia (sleep more than usual).
- Will meditation help my sleep?
Yes, meditation serves as a relaxation technique that can help ease anxiety surrounding bedtime.
- How many hours of sleep do women need?
Women over the age of 18 are advised to get between 7-8 hours of sleep a night according to Mayo Clinic.
- How do I know I get enough sleep?
Signs of good sleep quality include feeling rested, appropriate reaction times, ability to focus, and feeling in touch with your emotional responses and mood.
Connect with a therapist who’s specialized in women’s mental health today.
Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.) Common sleep disorders
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2020, April 17). Sleep tips: 6 steps to better sleep. Mayo Clinic
Mental Health Foundation. (2021, September 14). Sleep and mental health
National Alliance of Mental Illness (n.d.) Sleep disorders.
Olson, E. (2021, May 15). How many hours of sleep are good enough for health? Mayo Clinic.
Suni, E. (2022, March 11). Mental health and sleep. The Sleep Foundation.