Do you ever find yourself feeling more irritable and anxious after a restless night's sleep? Or perhaps you've noticed that your mood takes a nosedive when you've been burning the midnight oil for a few days in a row. It turns out that there's a strong link between the two, and it's not just a one-way street. Poor sleep can contribute to mental health issues like anxiety and depression, while mental health conditions can make it much harder to get a good night's sleep.
In this article, we'll explore the surprising connection between sleep and mental health, and share some tips for improving both.
What is the Connection Between Sleep and Mental Health?
Does your sleep suffer when you have a lot on your mind? If so, you're not alone. Many of us have experienced those nights where we lie awake, tossing and turning as our thoughts race and anxiety levels rise. It's easy to see why sleep and mental health are so closely linked - when we're feeling stressed or anxious, it can be hard to switch off and relax. But the effects of poor sleep can go far beyond just feeling tired the next day. Let's explore the connection to determine why it matters.
Sleep and mental health are deeply intertwined. Poor sleep can contribute to a range of mental health issues, including anxiety and depression. When we don't get enough sleep, our brain's ability to regulate emotions is compromised, which can lead to negative moods and increased feelings of stress. Lack of sleep can also interfere with cognitive function, making it harder to concentrate, remember things and make decisions.
Equally, mental health conditions can also have a significant impact on our sleep. For example, anxiety and depression can cause insomnia or make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.
The link between sleep and mental health is complex and multifaceted, but there's no denying that getting good quality sleep is essential for maintaining overall well-being. Let's take a closer look at some of the ways poor sleep and mental health can interact and what you can do to improve both.
How Does Sleep Deprivation Affect Mental Health?
Mental health problems and sleep are deeply intertwined and the quality of your sleep can have a significant impact on your mental wellbeing. Depression and sleep problems, for instance, are closely linked. If you suffer from insomnia, your risk of developing depression is ten times higher than someone who gets a good night's sleep. It is reported that of people with depression, 75% report trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.
While there is some debate about whether depression leads to sleep problems or vice versa, there is no doubt that poor sleep may create difficulties regulating emotions, leaving you more vulnerable to depression in the future. According to Dr M Walker, the inability to sleep well can impair the functioning of the amygdala, which is the region of the brain responsible for regulating emotions.
Research has also shown that improving sleep for people with mental health issues can reduce symptoms dramatically. This is why establishing a healthy sleep routine is particularly important for individuals experiencing mental health challenges.
If you're struggling with mental health issues, it's essential to prioritise good sleep patterns. By making sure you get enough high-quality sleep, you can help regulate your mood, reduce stress/anxiety and improve cognitive function. This could lead to better decision-making, problem-solving and creativity, which could be a critical step in managing your mental health.
How to Improve Your Sleep for Better Mental Health
Getting a good night's sleep involves more than just the number of hours you are asleep. It's also about the quality of your sleep, which is determined by the different stages of sleep that your body goes through. There are four stages of sleep - three for non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep and one for rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.
The NREM stages are characterised by decreasing levels of activity in the brain, while REM sleep is associated with increased activity. These stages are typically analysed based on patterns of brain activity, eye movements and muscle tone during sleep.
Stage 1 Is the lightest stage of NREM sleep lasting between one to seven minutes. During this stage, you may experience drifting in and out of sleep and some people may even feel like they haven't slept at all. Stage 2 Is the second stage of NREM sleep usually lasting between ten to twenty-five minutes. This is a deeper stage of sleep where your heart rate and breathing start to slow down, and your body temperature drops. Stage 3 Is the third stage of NREM sleep, also known as slow-wave sleep (SWS) or deep sleep and lasts between twenty to forty minutes. During this stage, your brain waves slow down even further, and your muscles relax completely. Stage 4 Is REM sleep, which usually occurs around ninety minutes after falling asleep and can last anywhere from ten to sixty minutes. During REM sleep, your eyes move rapidly, and your brain activity increases, while your muscles become almost completely paralysed. It's during this stage of sleep that you're most likely to dream.
The breakdown of a person's sleep into various cycles and stages is called sleep architecture. These cycles typically last around ninety minutes, and a complete cycle of all four stages is necessary for optimal physical and mental restoration and recovery.
So, if you want to wake up feeling refreshed and mentally restored, make sure you're getting enough high-quality sleep, including all four stages of sleep. By doing so, you'll be able to recharge your body and mind, improve your cognitive function, and boost your overall well-being.
12 Tips for Developing Healthy Sleep Habits
Developing good sleep habits is essential for maintaining physical and mental well-being. If you're struggling with sleep, try implementing the following twelve tips to improve your sleep:
Stick to a sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, including on the weekends! Set an alarm for bedtime to ensure that you don't stay up too late. Smartphones often come with this feature built-in, for example, Apple iPhones have the 'Sleep/Wake Up' alarm function that you can set up according to your schedule. This tip is number one on the list, because, if you don't do anything else, this tip alone has the potential to dramatically improve your quality of sleep and mental health.
Exercise regularly, but avoid doing so too close to bedtime. While regular exercise can be beneficial for sleep quality, it's important to avoid exercising too close to bedtime. This is because exercise increases your heart rate and body temperature, making it harder to fall asleep. Ideally, you should try to finish exercising at least a few hours before bedtime to give your body time to cool down and relax. If you do need to exercise at night, consider practising gentle yoga or stretching instead of high-intensity workouts. These types of activities can help calm your mind and body, making it easier to drift off to sleep when bedtime rolls around.
Avoid caffeine and nicotine, which are stimulants that can interfere with sleep. Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants that can interfere with sleep. Caffeine, in particular, is a commonly consumed substance that can stay in your system for several hours and disrupt your ability to fall asleep. Nicotine, on the other hand, is a stimulant that can increase heart rate and blood pressure, making it harder to relax and fall asleep. Avoiding these substances before bedtime is essential for promoting good sleep. If you're sensitive to caffeine, consider limiting your consumption throughout the day and avoiding it altogether in the afternoon and evening. Similarly, if you're a smoker, try to quit or at least avoid smoking before bed to give your body the best chance of getting the rest it needs.
Limit alcohol consumption before bed as it can disrupt REM sleep and cause breathing problems. While alcohol can sometimes make you feel sleepy, it's not an effective way to promote restful sleep. In fact, drinking alcohol before bed can have a negative impact on your sleep quality, particularly when it comes to REM sleep, which is essential for cognitive function and emotional regulation. Alcohol can cause breathing problems during sleep, such as snoring or sleep apnea, which can be disruptive and prevent you from getting the rest that you need. To improve your sleep quality, consider limiting your alcohol consumption in the hours leading up to bedtime to give your body time to process the alcohol before you go to sleep. Alternatively, try drinking non-alcoholic beverages or herbal tea to help you relax and unwind before bed.
Avoid large meals and beverages before bed. Eating a large meal or drinking too many fluids before bed can cause discomfort and make it harder to fall asleep. This is because digesting food requires energy and increases your body temperature, which can interfere with your ability to relax and fall asleep. Similarly, drinking too much before bed can lead to frequent urination, which can also disrupt your sleep. To optimise your sleep, try to avoid eating a large meal at least two hours before bedtime. Consider having a light snack instead of a full meal if you're feeling hungry before bed. Limit your fluid intake in the hours leading up to bedtime to minimise the need for trips to the bathroom during the night.
If possible, avoid medications that can disrupt sleep patterns. Certain medications can interfere with your sleep by disrupting your natural sleep cycles or causing side effects that keep you awake. For example, some medications used to treat asthma, allergies and high blood pressure can cause insomnia or frequent nighttime waking. If you're taking medication that's affecting your sleep patterns, talk to your prescriber about whether there are alternatives available that won't interfere with your sleep. In some cases, adjusting the timing or dosage of your medication can also help reduce its impact on your sleep. Always consult with your doctor before making any changes to your medication regimen.
Don't take naps after 3 pm, as this can make it harder to fall asleep at night. Taking naps can be a great way to recharge during the day, but it's important to time them correctly to avoid interfering with your nighttime sleep. Napping too late in the day, such as after 3 pm, can make it harder to fall asleep at night and disrupt your natural sleep-wake cycle. This is because napping later in the day can interfere with your body's natural drive for sleep and make it harder to feel naturally tired at bedtime. If you do need to take a nap, try doing so earlier in the day, such as during the mid-afternoon slump and limit your nap to around 20-30 minutes to avoid feeling groggy afterwards.
Relax before bed by engaging in calming activities such as reading or listening to music. Engaging in calming activities before bed can help you relax and unwind, making it easier to fall asleep when the time comes. Activities such as reading a book, listening to music or practising gentle yoga or meditation can help calm your mind and release tension in your body. By establishing a relaxing bedtime routine, you can signal to your brain that it's time to wind down and prepare for sleep, helping you get the rest you need to feel your best. It's important to choose activities that work well for you and that you find enjoyable, as this will increase the likelihood of sticking with them over time.
Take a hot bath before bed to help you relax and feel sleepy. Taking a hot bath before bed can be a great way to relax and promote restful sleep. Warm water can help soothe sore muscles, reduce tension, and calm your mind, making it easier to fall asleep when you get into bed. Additionally, the drop in body temperature after a warm bath can signal to your brain that it's time to sleep, helping you drift off more easily. To make the most of this strategy, try to take your bath at least an hour before bed to give your body time to cool down and consider adding some relaxing essential oils or Epsom salts to the water to enhance the experience.
Create a comfortable sleep environment by keeping your bedroom dark, cool and gadget-free. Creating a comfortable sleep environment is key to getting the rest you need. Bright lights and loud noises can disrupt your natural sleep cycles and make it harder to fall asleep or stay asleep throughout the night. To promote restful sleep, consider investing in blackout curtains or an eye mask to block out light and opt for a comfortable temperature between 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit. Additionally, avoid using electronic devices in bed, as their artificial light can interfere with your body's natural production of melatonin, a hormone that helps you feel sleepy. By creating a peaceful and comfortable sleep environment, you can improve the quality of your sleep and wake up feeling refreshed and energised.
Get enough sunlight exposure during the day to help regulate your sleep patterns. This is important for regulating your body's natural sleep-wake cycle, also known as your circadian rhythm. Sunlight helps regulate the production of the hormone melatonin, which signals to your body when it's time to sleep and wake up. When you don't get enough sunlight exposure, such as when you spend most of your day indoors or under artificial light, your body's internal clock can become disrupted, leading to difficulty falling asleep at night or feeling sleepy during the day. To optimise your sleep-wake cycle, try to spend some time outdoors each day, particularly in the morning when sunlight exposure is strongest. Even a few minutes of sunlight exposure can be beneficial for regulating your circadian rhythm and promoting restful sleep.
If you can't sleep get up and do a relaxing activity until you feel sleepy. If you find yourself lying in bed awake for more than twenty minutes, it's important to get up and do a relaxing activity until you feel sleepy. Lying in bed awake can lead to anxiety and rumination, which can make it even harder to fall asleep. Instead, try doing a calming activity such as reading a book, listening to music or practising relaxation exercises until you feel sleepy again. This helps break the association between your bed and wakefulness, making it easier to associate your bed with sleep when you do get back into it. Remember that occasional insomnia is normal and nothing to worry about and that getting up and engaging in a quiet activity can be a helpful strategy for promoting restful sleep in the long run.
By following these twelve tips, you'll be well on your way to developing healthy sleep habits and getting the rest you need to maintain optimal physical and mental health.
Effective Behavioural Methods for Treating Sleep Disorders
Treating sleep disorders can be a challenging process, but there are several effective behavioural methods that can help improve sleep quality in the long term. While there is currently no medication that can improve sleep in the long term, techniques such as cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia, or CBT-I, have been shown to be highly effective.
CBT-I involves breaking bad sleep habits and addressing anxieties that may be inhibiting sleep, while also building on basic sleep hygiene principles such as establishing a regular bedtime and wake-up time, avoiding daytime napping, and reducing anxiety-provoking thoughts before bed. Other techniques used in CBT-I include removing visible clock faces from view in the bedroom, restricting time spent in bed, and using 5 senses relaxation techniques (you can find the video to try this technique below) to promote relaxation before sleep.
By working with a trained professional and implementing these techniques, individuals suffering from sleep disorders can make significant progress in improving their sleep and achieving better overall health and wellbeing. Ultimately, prioritising sleep is crucial for optimal physical and mental performance and we can all learn from top athletes who recognise the importance of quality sleep for peak performance.
One of our BACP registered counsellors, Vanessa, specialises in cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBT-I). With her expertise in CBT-I, Vanessa provides affordable sessions to help individuals suffering from sleep disorders improve their sleep quality and overall well-being. She offers online booking through our website, making it convenient and accessible for those seeking treatment. Vanessa's commitment to providing effective and affordable care makes her a valuable resource for anyone who is looking to address their sleep issues and improve their quality of life.
Sleep and mental health are more closely linked than we might think. Research has shown that healthy sleep patterns are crucial for preventing and addressing a range of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression and stress. By prioritising our sleep and taking steps to improve its quality, we can enjoy a range of benefits, from better mental clarity and improved mood to better physical health outcomes. Fortunately, there is a range of effective treatments that can help us achieve better sleep, including self-care practices and professional services such as cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBT-I).
Talens Health Support Services is an online counselling provider with BACP-registered counsellors who specialise in CBT-I and other evidence-based therapies. If you are struggling with sleep or mental health issues, seeking the support of trained professionals like those at Talens Health may be beneficial. With our help, you can take positive steps towards improving your sleep, your mental health and your overall well-being. Contact us today to find out how we may be able to help you.