About one-third of American adults don’t get enough sleep. In fact, sleeplessness in America is so bad, the CDC actually declared it one of the biggest health challenges of the modern era.
This rise in sleeplessness has been connected to other health challenges. Some experts have even suggested that the recent increase in mental health issues could be connected to people not getting enough sleep.
Sleep and mental health do impact on each other, often in more ways than you might think. What does sleep do for your mental well being? How does mental health impact on your sleep habits?
This guide has these answers and more.
Sleep and Mental Health Go Hand in Hand
At first glance, you may not think sleep and mental health are interconnected. Yet, studies show that the majority of people with a mental health disorder also experience some kind of sleep disorder.
Depression is one example. In some people, depression can be linked to sleeping longer. In others, depression can lead to insomnia and sleep deprivation.
Stress and anxiety can also lead to more sleeplessness nights. People who are anxious may find it more difficult to fall asleep.
Sleep deprivation also has profound impacts on mental well being. People who are sleep deprived are often more irritable and prone to higher stress levels. This, in turn, can make it even more difficult for them to get the sleep they need.
It can be difficult to sort out if sleeplessness is causing a mental health disorder or vice versa. In almost all cases, though, improving sleep can help to improve the symptoms.
Why Sleep Is So Important to Mental Well Being
Sleep plays an important role in proper functioning. Losing sleep on a single night or getting to bed later than normal may mean you’re a little irritable or drowsy the next day.
Chronic sleeplessness can lead to bigger problems. You may feel fatigued or “foggy,” but you might also have issues with memory formation. If you find yourself being more forgetful, it may be because you’re not getting enough shuteye.
As noted, sleep also plays a role in mood. People who are chronically sleep deprived are less capable of thinking clearly. That can impact everything from reaction times to decision-making.
In turn, you may not be able to keep your emotions in check or feel overwhelmed by even small changes. You may also react slowly, which could impact job performance or important tasks such as operating machinery.
The Function of Sleep
Scientists are still working out why people need to sleep, but there’s evidence that it’s a chance for the brain to repair itself. As you burn energy, the compound adenosine builds up in the brain. This leads to sleepiness, along with other hormonal changes.
When you don’t get enough sleep, you don’t give the brain a chance to clear out the excess adenosine. This seems to trigger more changes in the way the brain and the body functions.
One example is the effects on hunger hormones. When someone is tired, their bodies produce extra hunger hormones. This can lead to cravings for high-calories foods and, ultimately, weight gain.
That, in turn, can also lead to more health problems.
Sleep also provides a chance for people to solidify their learning from the day. In fact, it plays a key role in memory formation. As a result, chronic sleeplessness can impact your ability to recall information and form new memories.
What should be clear is that sleep is key to overall health, including mental well being. It’s likely that sleep deprivation creates changes in brain chemistry. These changes could trigger depressive feelings or extra stress.
What Makes Up Healthy Sleep?
There are two major factors that you need to consider when thinking about healthy sleep. They are:
- Quantity of sleep
- Quality of sleep
Quantity of sleep is how much sleep you get overall. Adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep per night for healthy functioning.
Quality of sleep is also important. You might get nine hours of sleep every night. If you’re not getting quality sleep, though, you may still feel drowsy or tired.
In short, quality of sleep measures how restful your sleep actually is.
Sleep may not be restful if you have one of several disorders. Restless leg syndrome, for example, can cause people to fidget during their sleep. This, in turn, can make them feel less rested when they wake up, no matter how many hours of sleep they got.
Sleep apnea is another culprit here. If you sleep the required amount every night but still feel tired when you wake up, you may want to see a specialist.
Other disorders, such as ADHD, can also impact sleep. Some studies of children with ADHD show they have shorter sleep cycles. Restlessness disorders may also impact on the quality of their sleep.
How to Get Healthy Sleep
If sleep is important to health and mental health in particular, you want to be sure you’re getting good sleep. So, what can you do to improve both the quality and quantity of your sleep?
The first step may be to consult with a specialist to see if you have a sleep disorder. A disorder like sleep apnea needs special treatment.
Other disorders, like insomnia, may be treated with good sleep habits. Even if you have another disorder, good sleep hygiene can be important for improving sleep quantity and quality.
So, what do healthy sleep habits look like?
Setting Up a Routine
The first step to getting better sleep is usually creating a sleep routine or schedule. This means going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time every day.
Some people like to think they can get less sleep during the school or work week, then “make up” for it on the weekend. This can impact the sleep schedule and make it more difficult to get to sleep on time or get the right amount of sleep.
Instead, try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. This sets your circadian rhythm, so you’ll be ready to sleep when it’s bedtime and ready to wake up when the alarm goes off.
Unplug and Decompress Before Bedtime
Other factors also play into falling asleep at the right time. Unplugging from your electronics an hour or so before bedtime might be one factor. The blue light from screens can impact melatonin production, which can keep you up longer.
You may want to try filling that hour before bedtime with relaxing activities to help you wind down. You might consider taking a hot bath or reading a paperback book. Connecting with others can also help you feel sleepier.
Meditation may help as well. Some gentle stretching may also help you feel more prepared for bedtime. Try not to do anything too vigorous before bedtime, as it may keep you up.
If you’re feeling stressed or anxious about the next day, try to take care of small tasks that will make the day less stressful. An example might be laying out an outfit and making your lunch if you’re concerned about rushing or being late in the morning.
Diet and Exercise Tips
There’s good evidence that exercise impacts both sleep and mental health. If you can, get 60 minutes of vigorous activity in every day.
Exercise can release endorphins, feel-good compounds that lift your mood and bust stress. This may help with symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Exercise also burns energy and can help you feel more tired when bedtime rolls around.
Diet also plays a key role in both mental well being and sleep. Caffeine, for example, can keep you awake longer and it can also make you feel more stressed and anxious.
Try not to ingest caffeine at least six hours before bedtime. In addition, watch out for alcohol. It can disturb both quality and quantity of sleep.
The right balance of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients can help to reduce depression, stress, and other mental health disorders. Some also help to promote the production of melatonin, which regulates sleep.
The experts at SugarBear Hair also advocate certain herbs and essential oils. Valerian root, for example, has long been used to help promote sleep. Passion flower is another popular choice.
Lavender, bergamot, and more may also help you achieve better sleep, along with more relaxation and stress-relief.
Stop Sleeping on Better Health
As you can see, sleep and mental health are deeply intertwined. Better sleep can improve mental health, and vice versa.
The tips in this guide can help you improve both your mental health and your sleep. If you’re still not feeling rested, then it might be time to consult with the experts.
Are you looking for more great tips to help you stay healthy this year? You’re in the right place. We have everything from workout routines to advice on diet and lifestyle.