How Sleep Affects Mental Health

How Sleep Affects Mental Health

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Curious about how sleep affects mental health? It’s amazing what a good night’s sleep can do for your mental health. While sleeping can’t wash away every problem or fear, it can support you with the energy you need to face every day at your best.

Getting good sleep is essential to mental health, as poor sleep can worsen the effects of mental health conditions including anxiety, depression, and ADHD. Conversely, trauma and stress can affect sleep as well, so good sleep hygiene is key for maintaining restful nights and good mental health.

What Sleep Deprivation Does to Mental Health

When you’re sleep deprived, your mental health suffers. Insomnia feeds anxiety, and not getting enough sleep can negatively affect your mood, cognitive functioning, and rational thinking.

The mental health effects of sleep deprivation include:

  • Irritability

  • Cognitive impairment

  • Memory lapses or loss

  • Impaired moral judgement

  • Severe yawning

  • Hallucinations

  • Symptoms similar to ADHD

When you get enough sleep at night, you are in a better position to face the challenges of the day with a more stabilized mood. Your cognitive function is better, particularly in learning, memory, and rational thinking that can help you work through fears and concerns.

How Trauma and Stress Affect Sleep

Trauma can affect sleep, whether it’s physical, psychological, or both. Physical pain, anxiety, and depression following a traumatic event put those with PTSD at particular risk of sleep difficulties. People who have experienced trauma may suffer from sleep disorders and syndromes including:

  • Nightmares

  • Night terrors

  • Insomnia

  • Delayed sleep-phase syndrome

  • Narcolepsy

  • Restless legs syndrome and/or periodic limb movement disorder

  • Teeth grinding

  • Sleep apnea

  • Sleep walking

Stress and anxiety, which can occur following trauma or in everyday life, can negatively influence sleep. When you feel stressed, adrenaline and cortisol are released, causing you to feel more alert. At the same time, production of serotonin, which makes you feel tired, is decreased.

Practicing Good Sleep Hygiene for Mental Health

Treatment may be necessary for serious sleep disorders or trauma-related sleep problems. Psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, meditation, light therapy, and sleep restriction are treatment options.

However, you may find that improving your sleep hygiene can help you to get a better night’s sleep. And with a better night’s sleep, you can be prepared for the day with a better mood and cognitive function that can support mental health.

Good sleep hygiene for mental health includes:

  • A regular sleep schedule. Going to bed and waking up around the same time each night and morning creates a predictable schedule your body can rely on. Consistency is key and can train your brain to become tired around the same time each night.

  • A bedtime routine. Each night before bed, go through the same few steps. It can be as simple as plugging in your phone, brushing your teeth, and reading a chapter of a book before you turn the lights off. Like your sleep schedule, consistency is key with a bedtime routine and can signal to your brain that it’s bedtime.

  • Avoid stimulating activities in the hours before bed. Avoid exercise, caffeine, and screen time just before bed. It’s also a good idea to avoid eating a large meal, as this can interfere with healthy sleep.

  • Limit naps. Naps can be a good supplement to nighttime sleep, especially if you’re sleep deprived. But be careful not to nap in the hours just before bed, and if you do take a nap, limit it to less than 30 minutes, ideally around 20.

  • Create a comfortable sleep environment. Make your bedroom cool, dark, quiet, and comfortable with appropriate bedding. Consider blackout curtains and a white noise machine to block out distractions and make it easier to sleep at night.

Sara Westgreen is a researcher for the sleep science hub Tuck. She sleeps on a king size bed in Texas, where she defends her territory against cats all night. A mother of three, she enjoys beer, board games, and getting as much sleep as she can get her hands on.

There is no doubt that sleep ties into mental health. If you need additional advice or help implementing these practices in your life, you can contact us to make a counseling appointment. You can find additional information on our adult counseling page.

Photo by Vladislav Muslakov on Unsplash