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Is Sleep Really That Important For Your Mental Health?

A lot of us know that we often feel better after we get a “good night’s sleep” and there really is something to that. Whether you believe it or not, sleep and mental health go hand in hand. More specifically, the amount and quality of sleep you get has a huge impact on your mental health and vice versa. Unfortunately, there are a variety of different problems that you may experience that can prevent you from getting the good quality rest you need.


These include: 

  • Finding it hard to fall asleep, stay asleep, and/or you wake up earlier than you had planned to. 

  • Experiencing disruptions to your sleep. These could be caused by panic attacks, flashbacks, nightmares, psychosis, etc. 

  • Finding it hard to wake up or get out of bed in the morning. 

  • Feeling tired or sleepy often. 

  • Sleeping a lot, including sleeping during times where you want or need to be awake.

 

The relationship between sleep and mental health is bidirectional. Not getting enough sleep on a regular basis can increase the likelihood of developing a mental illness. In addition, many of those who struggle with mental illnesses also report having poor sleep which ultimately makes symptoms worse. Sleep problems are common for people who struggle with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and more. In addition, lack of sleep is associated with an increase in negative emotional responses to stressors and a decrease in positive emotions. While we sleep, our bodies are still hard at work. Sleep helps maintain important cognitive skills like attention, memory, and learning. During REM sleep, the brain is processing a lot of emotional information as it is remembering and evaluating thoughts and memories from the day. It appears that a lack of sleep can prevent the consolidation of positive emotional content which can negatively impact mood and emotional reactivity. Because of this, poor sleep makes it difficult to cope with even minor stress and it impacts our ability to perceive the world accurately. 

 

The amount of sleep each person needs varies based on individual factors like their age and sex. On average, most adults need somewhere between 7 to 9 hours of sleep. Teens typically require a little more sleep at 8 to 10 hours, and older adults usually get by with about 7 to 8 hours of sleep. If you are not getting enough good quality sleep this can result in:

 

  • Feeling anxious, depressed, or suicidal.

  • Mania, psychosis, or paranoia.

  • Feelings of loneliness and/or isolation.

  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions.

  • Feeling irritable and fatigued.

  • Becoming affected by other health problems.

 

Sleep deprivation occurs when an individual does not get the amount of sleep that they need. Americans are notorious for being sleep deprived, but those with psychiatric conditions are even more likely to express problems with sleep. Chronic sleep problems affect 50% to 80% of patients in a typical psychiatric practice, compared with 10% to 18% of adults in the general U.S. population. Unfortunately, America's struggle with sleep has only gotten worse since the COVID-19 pandemic. One study found that insomnia rates more than double what they were before the pandemic. This is not surprising because sleep disturbances have been linked to higher levels of psychological distress and anxiety and depression rates were considerably higher than pre-pandemic levels in the same survey. This is likely due to the fact that the pandemic caused many of us to be isolated from our friends and family, out of work, and stirred up feelings of worry and despair. 

There are a lot of reasons why one may struggle with sleep. These include: 

 

  • Stress.

  • Problems with where you are sleeping.

  • Being a parent.

  • Taking medication.

  • Drugs or alcohol use.

  • Working night shifts.

  • Current or past trauma.

  • Mental health and physical health problems. 


Having good sleep habits, or sleep hygiene, can help you to get that great night's sleep you've been needing. Some habits that may improve your sleep include: 


  • Maintaining a regular sleep schedule.

  • Dedicating time to wind down and relax before bed.

  • Avoiding the consumption of caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco, especially in the evening.

  • Dimming lights an hour or two before bed.

  • Avoiding the use of electronic devices an hour or two before bed.

  • Removing electronic devices from the bedroom entirely.

  • Regular exercise during the daytime.

  • Getting natural light exposure during the daytime.

  • Creating a space that is comfortable to sleep in.

  • Blocking out light and sound that could disrupt sleep. This could be done with black out curtains or a sound machine. 

  • Make sure your room is at a comfortable temperature.

  • Avoiding large meals before bedtime.


Finding the right routine that works best for you may take some trial and error. Hopefully these tips can help you to fall asleep faster and stay asleep throughout the night. 




Written By,

Tierney Puig, Intern


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