Sleep and Mental Health

Sleep and mental health are intrinsically linked. When you are sleep deprived, your brain becomes exhausted meaning that it can’t perform its duties as well as it should. Even a small amount of sleep deprivation can begin to negatively affect emotions and mental health.

Long-term sleep deprivation can lead to serious psychological issues such as paranoia, suicidal thoughts and depression. But studies also show that those suffering with depression are more likely to sleep less than six hours a night, meaning that sleep deprivation and depression can often be locked in a vicious cycle.

Traditionally, those treating patients with psychiatric disorders have viewed insomnia and sleep deprivation as symptoms. However, studies in both adults and children suggest that sleep issues may raise the risk and even directly contribute to mental health issues. Research suggests that a good night’s sleep helps the brain with both mental and emotional resilience, whereas sleep deprivation contributes to negative thinking and emotional vulnerability.

Sleep disruption affects levels of neurotransmitters and stress hormones. This leads to impaired thinking and emotional regulation, meaning that insomnia may amplify the effects of psychiatric disorders and vice versa. Sleep problems have been linked to depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders and ADHD, to name but a few.

Fortunately, many of the treatments recommended for sleep deprivation can also help to alleviate depression. Recommended treatments include:

Lifestyle changes – It’s well known that caffeine can contribute to sleeplessness but did you know that alcohol and nicotine could also cause problems? Whilst alcohol temporarily depresses the nervous system and makes you fall asleep, you’re likely to wake up once the effects wear off. Nicotine is a stimulant and speeds up your heart rate and thinking – making it harder to fall asleep.

Relaxation techniques – Deep breathing exercises, meditation and progressive muscle relaxation (alternatively tensing and relaxing muscles) can often help to alleviate anxiety and racing thoughts.

Sleep hygiene – It’s also possible to learn how to sleep better. Tips such as following a regular bedtime and wake up time, using the bedroom only for sleeping and sex, and keeping the bedroom dark and free of distractions such as televisions and computers can all help with getting a better night’s sleep.

Physical activity – Studies have shown that regular aerobic exercise can help people fall asleep faster, wake less in the night and spend more time in deep sleep.

For further reading on the subject, here are some books:

Quiet Your Mind and Get to Sleep: Solutions to Insomnia for Those with Depression, Anxiety or Chronic Pain (New Harbinger Self-Help Workbook)

Overcoming Insomnia and Sleep Problems: A Self-Help Guide Using Cognitive Behavioral Techniques

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