Sleep and Mental Health
February 25, 2022
As more and more research is done on sleep and mental health, researchers are beginning to recognize the relationship between the two. Previously, psychiatrists believed sleep problems to be a symptom of mental health disorders. In recent years, however, researchers have found that sleep and mental health have a bidirectional relationship. What that means is yes, sleep problems can be a symptom of mental health disorders, but mental health disorders can also be caused or worsened by poor sleep.
Let’s explore some mental health disorders and how they relate to sleep.
Stress is one of the most common mental health issues we all face. In small doses, it can actually help us grow, but in large amounts, it can be debilitating and, well, stressful. You may have found that you have difficulty sleeping when you are stressed. Your mind may start racing and it can be difficult to calm down enough to get good sleep. The hard part is that if we don’t get enough sleep at night, it can also exacerbate our stress, making it more difficult to handle day-to-day stresses.
Proof of difficulty to handle daily stresses after a lack of sleep was found by researchers in Norway. The researchers asked participants to sleep two hours less than they normally did for three nights in a row. They were then tested on response accuracy and speed and asked how well they thought they did. What the researchers found was that the individuals became more impulsive and experienced fewer positive emotions. Impulsivity and an increased tendency to feel negative emotions can make it more difficult for a person to handle the stresses of everyday life.
Depression is characterized by a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest in activities a person would normally enjoy. One of the things affected by depression is sleep. In fact, a majority of people who experience depression also have trouble sleeping. What is interesting, though, is that depression is linked to oversleeping and insomnia, so it can cause a person to sleep too much or too little.
As with other mental health disorders, anxiety can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Anxiety can lead to a state of hyperarousal, where a person’s mind can’t stop thinking. Anxiety can cause your thoughts to race, which prevents you from sleeping, but then you can start stressing about not being able to sleep, which increases your anxiety level. It’s a bit of a chicken or the egg scenario where lack of sleep can lead to anxious thoughts and vice versa.
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is most common in children, but it is also found in adults. ADHD is characterized by reduced attention span and increased impulsiveness, and people with ADHD can have abnormal sleep schedules as well as having problems staying asleep or staying awake. This demonstrates the very real cyclical link between mental health and sleep.
Improving Mental Health and Sleep
The good news about all of this is that, because of the bidirectional relationship between sleep and mental health, it is possible to improve mental health by improving sleep. Several studies have shown that sleep interventions can improve a person’s mental health whether they are suffering from depression, have ADHD, or something else. One of the interventions that has worked to improve mental health and sleep is Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I), and a clinical trial showed that it could reduce symptoms of many mental health conditions.
Practicing good sleep hygiene can also help you improve your sleep and mental health. Sleep hygiene is all about giving yourself the best opportunity to sleep. That can mean changing up the environment in your sleep space or getting rid of your old bedding. One product in particular that has shown to reduce anxiety and can give you the best sleep is a weighted blanket. Our Center Yourself™ Weighted Blanket utilizes deep pressure therapy, which studies have shown to be useful with a variety of anxiety disorders. The weight of the blanket has a calming effect that allows people to relax deeply and can help them drift off to sleep.
If you have a mental health disorder and notice your sleep has been abnormal, talk to your doctor and see if there is a way to improve your mental health through sleep interventions.
If you aren’t suffering from a mental health disorder but would still like to improve your sleep, check out some of our sleep tips.