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How Sleep Affects Mental Health (+6 Tips to Make it Better)
How was your sleep last night? Too short?
If that’s your answer (or something similar in the vein of not good), then you must know that you’re not alone. Did you know that 60 percent of adults admit to having sleep problems at least a few nights a week? That number goes up to 69% for children.
There can be many factors that contribute to poor sleeping habits – mental, physical and environmental. Some groups of people are at greater risk, like night shift workers, hospital physicians, truck drivers, parents, and teens.
However, if you’ve ever struggled with your mental health, chances are that you have also struggled with your sleep schedule.
It’s well known that sleep affects our mental health and that our mental health affects our sleep. Sleep troubles are a symptom in so many mental health disorders, from generalized anxiety disorder to post-traumatic stress disorder.
Sleep and Your Mental Health
Sleep is more than a simple “recharge” of your energy levels.
There’s so much that goes on in your brain while you are asleep.
- Sorting and storing your memories into long-term memory
- A balancing of your hormone levels
- Purging excess information you don’t need
Think of it as a nightly housecleaning, and without proper time to get the job done, your house (body), will fall into complete chaos. That chaos most likely will feel like jetlag and it will be unpleasant for everyone.
It takes a sheer amount of energy to live with a mental illness, so being tired might be part of your ‘normal’. Jennifer B. (in her article for The Mighty) equated just “going out” for her to running a marathon for someone who isn’t struggling with a mental illness. Additionally, the medications that help you manage your illness may have side effects that include insomnia, fatigue, or drowsiness — sometimes all at the same time.
And it’s a vicious cycle.
If your sleep schedule gets off, you are at an increased risk of having a mental health episode. Getting the wrong amount of sleep (either too much or too little) can increase your risk of having a major depressive breakdown by as much as 10x! Having insomnia or sleep deprivation can double your risk of anxiety (compared to someone who doesn’t have these things).
For adults, the recommended amount of sleep to get is 7-9 hours a night. This is no small feat! However, your sleep is important… so let’s take a closer look.
Not Getting Enough Sleep
Maybe you have trouble falling asleep. Maybe you have trouble staying asleep. Or maybe you wake up waaaaay too early. Whatever your situation is for not getting enough, it can make your life a million times more difficult. When you aren’t well rested, you’re vulnerable to every stressor that pops up — even if it seems like no big deal.
“When we don’t get enough sleep, we’re running a little bit more ragged, [so] when life gets hard and challenging, we are more impacted by those moments,” says Debra Kissen, Ph.D., clinical director of Light On Anxiety Treatment Center and chair of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America public education committee (to The Mighty).
When you don’t get enough sleep, you’re far more likely to experience worse mental health symptoms. Additionally, studies show, that mental health treatments are less effective on patients who are sleep deprived.
Getting Too Much Sleep
You might think to yourself “Why is this section even in here? You can’t get too much sleep!” — but that’s not true.
Hypersomnia — excessive sleepiness — is linked to the persistence of depression and anxiety, just like insomnia. Oversleeping is also linked to an increased risk for several physical issues such as strokes, migraines, or heart disease.
Also, sleeping longer doesn’t give you more energy — quite the opposite! If you sleep too long, you’ll likely wake up feeling lethargic, tired, and unmotivated (and craving more sleep).
I think we can all agree that naps are amazing. But only when they last 60-90 minutes!
Did you know that taking naps that are longer than this end up doing more harm than good? They contribute to a dysregulated sleep pattern and can inhibit your ability to sleep at all!
Your sleep schedule isn’t just about the amount of sleep you get, but also about getting into a regular rhythm.
Get Better Sleep
Some of these you’ve probably heard a million times – but maybe that’s because there’s some truth here? So stop making excuses! If you want to improve your sleep habits, adopt some of these behaviours:
- Limit caffeine and nicotine 6 hours before bed — these are stimulants! Relax with a cup of chamomile tea instead.
- Beds are for sleeping! Not movie watching, facebook browsing, or studying. Use your bed for what it’s intended for, and when you go there your body will know what to do!
- Sleep on schedule! If you want to wake up at 6 am, you need to be sleeping by 10 pm — and your bedtime routine should start an hours before that (no screens).
- Cover your clock! If you’re having trouble sleeping, its best not to watch the hours tick by — that’ll increase your anxiety, and decrease your chances of actually sleeping.
- Do your medications have side effects? Talk with your doctor about the side effects you are experiencing, and maybe try a different medication that doesn’t inhibit your sleep.
- Talk to your therapist too! They might have some sleep therapy you can try.
It’s easy to underestimate the value of sleep and how it impacts your mental health. If you’re sleeping too much or too little, it’s important you get yourself on a regular sleeping schedule. You might be surprised to find how much better you feel