Beyond Beauty Sleep: Exploring the Sleep and Mental Health Connection 

Jul 18, 2023 | Mental Health

Sleep has long been heralded for its ability to support a beautiful physical appearance, but far too many people don’t know that there is also a powerful connection between sleep and mental health. In truth, the dangers of not getting enough sleep go far beyond skin-deep damage.  

The impact of lack of sleep on mental health can be significant, even altering the activity levels in key areas of the brain. Additionally, data suggests that many Americans frequently struggle with getting enough sleep. One in three American adults regularly sleeps less than the recommended seven to eight hours every night, according to the American Sleep Apnea Association. Additionally, a 2022 Gallup survey revealed that 33% of Americans rate their sleep as fair to poor, and only 32% classify their sleep as very good. 

If you’re struggling with getting enough quality sleep, you’re not alone, but the psychological benefits of correcting that problem and improving your sleep shouldn’t be taken lightly. Let’s take a closer look at the connection between sleep and personal well-being before revealing some tips to help you get the slumber you need to feel your best. 

Understanding the Connection Between Sleep and Mental Health 

In a typical psychiatric practice, as much as 80% of patients experience chronic sleep problems, according to data from Harvard Health Publishing. For comparison, the number of American adults experiencing chronic sleep problems falls between 10% and 18% among the general population. That’s a significant difference that can’t be ignored.  

Not only does a lack of sleep negatively affect your psychological health, but people with mental health problems also have a higher risk of developing sleep problems. This is a vicious cycle that can exacerbate the symptoms that patients with depression, ADHD, anxiety, and bipolar disorder commonly experience that is related to sleep.  

The Impact of Sleep Deprivation on Mental Health 

After one night of insufficient sleep, you feel some differences throughout the day. Short-term effects like irritability and slower thinking are common. However, long-term effects can have far-reaching negative impacts. For example, insomnia and general sleep problems can contribute to the onset of mental health conditions, and it can worsen the symptoms and severity of those conditions.  

When you sleep, your brain activity fluctuates as you cycle through different stages of sleep. During non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, your brain’s activity slows and only emits short bursts of energy. During rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the sleep cycle associated with dreaming, your brain’s activity speeds up. Combined, each sleep stage works together to support overall brain health. While you sleep, your brain forms new neural pathways, stores memories and information, and enhances your ability to solve problems and process emotional information.  

Studies have shown that a lack of sleep changes activity in different areas of the brain and makes accessing positive emotions more difficult. As a result, people who are sleep deficient often have a more challenging time dealing with change, making decisions, and controlling their emotions. This is linked to higher incidences of risk-taking behaviors, depression, and other mental health conditions.  

The Impact of Mental Health on Sleep 

Insomnia and sleeping problems aren’t just contributing factors to mental health conditions. Sleep disturbances can also be a result or symptom of conditions like anxiety, panic disorder, and depression. Flashbacks, excessive worry, panic attacks, and other symptoms can make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. Mental health conditions can also create a state of hyperarousal in the brain, making it harder to get much-needed sleep.  

The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that half of all insomnia cases are related to mental health disorders. That statistic includes people suffering from substance use disorders, which can also interfere with sleep patterns. 

Tips for Improving Sleep and Mental Health 

It can feel like an unstoppable cycle — lack of sleep exacerbates mental health conditions and mental health conditions disrupt the ability to sleep well. The impacts of sleep on mental health and brain development are complex, but the news isn’t only negative. You can take steps to put yourself firmly on the road to sleeping and feeling better. 

Developing Healthy Sleep Habits

Healthy sleep habits can make a difference in the quality of sleep you get by preparing your body and brain for much-needed rest, reducing worry, and enhancing calmness. Some tips for developing healthy sleep habits include:  

  • Create a Sleep Schedule: Consistency can make a difference in your sleep patterns. Wake up and go to bed at the same time every day, including on weekends. 
  • Establish a Bedtime Ritual: Research shows that having a regular routine established for the hour before you go to bed can help your brain prepare for sleep. Doing the same activities in the same order every night conditions your mind to view those actions as a precursor for sleeping. Examples include yoga, meditation, reading, and taking a bath. Practicing relaxation techniques like deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation may also help. 
  • Prepare Your Bedroom: Design your room with sleep in mind. Choose a supportive, comfortable mattress and pillow, opt for temperature-regulating bedding, and make the room as dark and quiet as possible. Set the thermostat between 60 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit, the optimal temperature range recommended by the Sleep Foundation.  
  • Avoid Sleep Disruptors: Alcohol, caffeine, and late-day naps can all interfere with your sleep quality and consistency at night. Using electronics in the evening, including smartphones and tablets, can leave you overstimulated and expose you to blue light, which inhibits the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle. Power down your devices for at least an hour before heading to bed.  

Seeking Support 

Don’t suffer in silence. Seeking support for the mental effects of sleep deprivation and the effects of mental health conditions on sleep is essential to overcoming both.  

Working with a sleep expert and/or a psychiatrist can have tremendous benefits, including helping you explore the root cause of what is happening. You may need to adjust your lifestyle or any medications you take. Testing is available for sleep disorders like sleep apnea to rule out physical causes. When you seek support for your sleep and well-being, you open the door to vast resources that can help. Professionals may recommend: 

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: CBT for insomnia is often a first line of defense for treating sleeplessness, and it may be more effective than medications. Strategies like stimulus control, relaxation techniques, and sleep restriction can enhance your sleep habits and get you on track for some healthy rest. 
  • Lifestyle Changes: Getting into a regular routine of physical activity, avoiding caffeine after a certain time of day, and keeping a sleep diary are a few positive habits that can help.  
  • Medication: Your doctor can recommend medications to help treat insomnia, although this is often a last resort. Some medications may be recommended for short-term use, such as benzodiazepines. Others, like Ambien and Lunesta, have been approved for long-term use. However, prescription sleep aids often have side effects that many people want to avoid. 

Take Charge of Your Sleep and Mental Health 

In our hustle-and-bustle culture, far too many people wear inadequate sleep as a badge of honor. The negative effects of lack of sleep on physical and mental health can derail your personal and professional life. There isn’t a magic snooze button that will instantly make lasting changes, but you can get the support and help you need to make positive changes yourself. For guidance and support through the process, contact Manuel Astruc, M.D., and Associates today by calling (518) 241-5864.