Many people have first-hand experience with a lack of quality sleep. After a night of poor sleep, you wake up feeling exhausted and unable to focus. However, sleep can affect your mental health in many ways, and poor sleep quality is linked to mental health issues like depression and anxiety.
There’s a lot of existing research, and experts continue to study how sleep affects mental health, but evidence proves that mental health and sleep are closely related. For example, mental health issues can make it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep, while poor sleep quality can worsen existing mental health problems. In addition, while depression and anxiety medications may be able to help support mental health, sleep still plays a vital role in your emotional well-being.
How Are Sleep and Mental Health Related?
Sleep is good for your overall health, especially your brain health. When you sleep, you go through different stages of activity in different parts of the brain. This brain activity affects mental health because REM sleep supports the brain’s ability to process emotional information. While you sleep, your brain evaluates different thoughts and memories, enabling you to learn. However, a lack of sleep can have a negative effect on your brain’s ability to process positive emotional information, influencing your mood.
Sleep problems are not just a symptom of mental health issues; they could be a contributing factor, suggesting a bi-directional relationship between mental health and sleep in which poor sleep quality can contribute to mental health issues, and mental health issues could contribute to poor sleep quality.
Of course, more research is needed in this area to confirm the relationship between sleep and mental health. Still, the evidence shows that the relationship is multifaceted and influenced by several factors. It may also depend on specific mental health disorders. For example, individuals with depression may suffer from sleepiness and hypersomnia, in which they sleep too much. So while sleep is good for you, it’s possible too much sleep could contribute to depression. Additionally, in those with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), their sleep cycle is disrupted by the changing of seasons and reduced daylight hours, making them either sleep too much or too little.
Sleep And Hormones
Lack of sleep causes a chemical imbalance in the brain, ultimately affecting brain health and making it more difficult to process different emotions and emotional responses. Brains produce and regulate many different hormones that send messages to the brain and different parts of the body, influencing appetite, mood, weight, growth, healing, and immunity.
Lack of sleep makes it more difficult for the brain to communicate with its hormone messengers, forcing the hormones to deliver misinformation throughout the body. This disruption in hormones caused by poor sleep quality is associated with how sleep affects the endocrine system, which produces hormones.
The hypothalamus maintains hormonal balance in the body, telling the endocrine system glands what hormones to produce and when while regulating others. Much of this communication occurs during sleep, so at night, the hypothalamus tells certain glands to produce different hormones, but if you’re not getting enough sleep, those messages can’t be properly delivered.
Many hormones are influenced by sleep, but the stress hormone cortisol has one of the most significant impacts on mental health. A rise in cortisol means more stress, which can seriously alter mental health and well-being.
Stress And Sleep
Cortisol is a hormone that triggers your fight or flight response, keeping you alert when you need to be. However, your body shouldn’t remain on high alert all day. The production of this hormone is regulated by the pituitary gland connected to the hypothalamus, and it’s essential for your hormone levels to be balanced.
When you don’t get enough sleep, your body produces more cortisol to keep you alert, putting your body in a state of stress until you’re able to go to sleep so the pituitary gland can regulate hormone production. Many stressed individuals have difficulty falling asleep because of these high levels of cortisol.
You already know about how bad stress is for your health, including the fact that too much stress makes it difficult to control your emotions. However, sleep deprivation and stress are bi-directionally related. When you don’t get enough sleep, you’ll feel more stressed during the day, and that stress could keep you up at night, keeping you in a sleep/stress loop that’s difficult to escape. This loop could result in mood disorders, including anxiety and depression.
When you’re more stressed, you’re more anxious, making you more sensitive to emotional stimuli. In addition, individuals with diagnosed mental disorders can increase the severity of those disorders.
Improve Sleep And Mental Health
Since poor sleep quality can impact every aspect of your life, including your mental health, it’s important to find ways to support them simultaneously. Here are a few ways you can improve sleep and mental health.
Talk To A Professional
If you’re suffering from a mood or mental disorder, the best thing you can do is talk to a professional who may be able to prescribe anxiety medication that will calm your anxiety and help you sleep better at night.
Improve Sleep Habits
One of the easiest ways to fall asleep and stay asleep is to put your mind and body into a sleep routine by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day.
Avoid Caffeine At Night
Caffeine can trigger stress and anxiety, so it’s best to avoid it during the day and at night to prevent any disruption to your natural sleep cycle.
Exercise boosts feel-good hormones called endorphins to help you feel happier and more alert during the day. However, it can also help you sleep better at night by improving your mood and helping you release any excess energy that can keep you awake at night.
Effects Of Sleep On Mental Health
Mental disorders are affected by sleep, but there are many other contributing factors. If you’re concerned about your mental health, the best thing you can do for yourself is talk to a therapist who can help you through difficult times to prevent insomnia and sleep issues from exacerbating existing issues.