The Importance of Sleep for Mental Health

Everyone knows that we need sleep; even if we try to fight it, we will fall asleep eventually. What does it do to our mental health if we don’t get enough sleep? And what do we do when our mental health is negatively affecting our sleep?

How does sleep affect mental health?

Sleep is integral to our brain health. Even though we aren’t aware of it, our brains are rather active while we are sleeping. Several components of our brains like the hypothalamus, brain stem, thalamus, cerebral cortex and amygdala, work in sophisticated coordination during sleep to foster communication between neurons, help us learn and create new memories, regulate our emotions and help us concentrate while awake.

How does mental health affect sleep?

Sleep and mental health have a circular relationship. Sleep affects mental health, and mental health affects sleep. Mental health conditions can also be exacerbated or worsened by lack of sleep, which itself was brought on by the condition.

Picture this: it’s the night before a big exam or presentation, and you’re feeling wired. You know that you need to sleep, but your thoughts are racing. You’re getting more stressed as you watch the minutes and hours tick by. The more you think about how you have to sleep, the less you feel capable of sleeping.

The next day, the lack of sleep will catch up with you. You’ll feel tired, irritable and stressed. You may have brain fog, difficulty concentrating and low energy. You’ll be worried about how little sleep you got. You will feel exhausted once it’s time to go to sleep, but you will feel pressure to get a good night’s sleep to make up for last night. Your anxiety increases with each moment you lie awake. The cycle continues.

Mental health conditions like anxiety disorders, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder and substance abuse disorder have been shown to be associated with not being able to fall asleep, sleeping too much or too little, not getting restful sleep and having nightmares. In the long run, the lack of sleep brought on by mental health conditions will only exacerbate the conditions themselves. Deprivation of restful sleep can compound symptoms like stress, anxiety, and depression and can also lead to other complications like memory issues, appetite changes, irritability, difficulty concentrating, panic attacks, nightmares and emotional dysregulation.

How can I get more sleep?

Good sleep benefits our mental health, and tending to our mental health can help us sleep better. Try out these tips for getting restful and consistent sleep every night:

  • Set a consistent sleep schedule. Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning. Your body will adjust to this schedule and will learn to fall asleep and wake up naturally.
  • Create a nighttime routine that helps prepare you for bed. Meditate, practice yoga, read a book, take a long bath or something else that helps you relax and unwind.
  • Get out of bed if you can’t sleep, otherwise you risk feeling additional stress over how much sleep you aren’t getting. If possible, go into another room to read, listen to music, or do another relaxing activity until you feel sleepy.
  • Avoid eating, drinking alcohol or having caffeine right before bedtime. These can all dysregulate your blood sugar and make it difficult to fall asleep.
  • Make sure your sleeping environment is comfortable, including temperature, comforter, mattress, pillows, light and sound. A new mattress or comforter might be an investment, but it will pay off in the long run if it means you can have more restful sleep.
  • Limit your screen time before bed. Using your phone right before bed can make it difficult to fall asleep, especially if you are engaging with anxiety-inducing content like the news or social media. Watching TV at night can be similarly disruptive, and if you like to watch TV in bed, you may begin to associate your bed with being awake and entertained.
  • Exercise during the day. Exercise has been shown to reduce anxiety and improve restful sleep.

Mazzitti & Sullivan Counseling is here to help. If you want to learn more about how sleep affects mental health, or if your mental health may be disrupting your sleep, reach out today at 800-809-2925.