Sleep is highly critical for both mental and physical wellbeing. Sleeping helps you recover from physical exertion and maintains cognitive skills like memory, learning, and regulating emotions.
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Research even shows that going without sleep consecutively for three nights can lead to hallucinations, delusions, and perceptual distortions. Also, when you don’t get enough sleep, you can develop mental health conditions like depression and anxiety–linked to further disruptions in sleep quality.
Let’s find out why sleep is crucial for maintaining optimal mental health.
Effects of Sleep on Mental Health
There are two major sleep categories, quiet and REM sleep. During the initial quiet sleep category, your breathing and heart rate slow, temperature drops, and muscles relax. In the deepest stage here, sleep elicits critical physiological changes to enhance your immune system’s effectiveness.
The REM sleep phase is typically the time when you dream. Your heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, and temperature moderately increase as compared to when you’re awake. Research shows that your REM sleep improves memory, learning and contributes to better emotional health.
Sleep disruption affects all the processes shown above, including levels of stress hormones and neurotransmitters, thus affecting your brain. The result is impaired cognitive function and lack of emotional regulation, among other adverse effects. That is why insomnia amplifies the symptoms of mental health issues, and the inverse is also true.
How Mental Health Issues Affect Your Sleep
Traditionally, physicians treating people with mental or psychiatric ailments often viewed sleep disorders like symptoms. However, extensive studies suggest that those sleep issues may contribute to or raise the risk for the onset of mental disorders.
Here are some of the ways mental health problems could be affecting your sleep:
- Anxiety may cause repetitive or racing worries and thoughts that prevent you from sleeping. You may also experience panic attacks when you try to sleep.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and depression can result in more sleep, including staying in your bed for a more extended period. However, depression may also cause insomnia in many patients.
- PTSD or trauma can cause nightmares, night terrors, or flashbacks that disrupt your sleep. You may even feel uncomfortable or unsafe in your bed or when you switch the lights off.
- Psychosis or paranoia can often make it harder to sleep. An individual may see things or hear voices that they find disturbing or frightening.
- Mania often leads to a feeling of happiness and energy. That means you may not even feel sleepy, and thus, it can cause insomnia.
- Taking psychiatric medication is typically associated with sleep disruptive side effects like insomnia, oversleeping, disturbed sleep, and nightmares.
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Effects of Poor Sleep Quality
Lack of sufficient sleep can result in poor overall health. If you are having sleep issues, you might:
- Feel isolated or lonely
- Feel anxious or depressed
- Have a low mood
- Experience erratic behavior
- Be more irritable
- Have a Low cognitive function and performance, like making mistakes and forgetfulness
- Be at risk of psychotic episodes
Tips to improve sleep quality
- Seek medical attention for any mental health concerns that are affecting your sleep.
- Improve the environment in which you sleep, i.e., the light, noise, and temperature in your bedroom.
- Try to wind down or relax before bedtime, like through meditation or avoiding stimulation from your TV or smartphone.
- Check what you drink and eat before you sleep, including avoiding sugary or heavy meals, caffeine, etc.
- Establish a consistent and regular sleeping and waking cycle.
Summary of the Relationship Between Sleep and Mental Health
Although the relationship between mental health and sleep is quite complicated, here are some facts to consider:
- Sleep disorders like insomnia and others are much more prevalent amongst mentally ill people
- Poor sleep quality can worsen your mental condition and even make it harder to deal with the symptoms
- It is highly likely that treating a sleep disorder will also help to manage the accompanying mental illness
- People with psychological or psychiatric issues often spend more time in the lighter and less restorative sleep stages than the deeper, REM sleep that is crucial for healing and optimal health
- Understanding how poor sleep quality affects mental health is highly critical as researchers have found a strong link between suicide and insomnia.
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Mental health issues, just like physical ailments, can be easily treated once a medic has appropriately diagnosed the conditions. Likewise, you can also get relief for any sleep disorder, which can help you avoid or reduce the symptoms of certain psychiatric conditions.
Sleep disorders and mental health issues can disrupt the quality of your life. Do you have any of these disorders? Reach out to an accredited physician for diagnosis and an optimal treatment plan.