The Connection Between Sleep and Mental Health
We have all heard the expression “waking up on the wrong side of the bed,” usually when we are not feeling our best in the morning, typically as the result of less than optimal sleep. We know we can feel out of sorts, have lower energy levels, and be more emotionally reactive. The question is- How much does sleep really affect your mental health?
As it turns out, quite a bit!
Researchers are continuing to study the relationship between sleep and mental health, and how exactly each can influence the other. Current research shows that the relationship is definitely bidirectional. Mental health issues can influence the amount and quality of sleep a person gets, and poor sleep can contribute to worsening symptoms or even the initiation of mental health issues.
How can sleep affect mental health?
According to the Sleep Foundation (www.sleepfoundation.org), the proper amount of sleep – especially REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, helps the brain process emotional information. The different stages of sleep allow different parts of the brain to be more or less active, which can enable better thinking, learning and memory. During these phases of sleep, the brain is working to evaluate and remember thoughts and memories, and it appears that lack of sleep can decrease the brain’s ability to retain positive emotional content. This can influence your mood and your emotional reactivity.
Traditionally, the idea has been that sleep problems were a symptom of many mental health disorders, but this idea is increasingly being questioned. Research continues to show that sleep problems may be both caused by and influence the symptoms and severity of mental health problems.
What should I do now?
One of the most common reasons people sleep poorly is poor sleep hygiene. These habits, combined with your sleep environment, play a very strong role in how well you sleep. Here are some steps you can take to start improving your sleep tonight!
Set a consistent bedtime and stick to it.
Try to sleep a consistent number of hours each night
Block out excess light and sound that might be disruptive
Maximize comfort and support with your pillows, mattress and bedding.
You can also start implementing behaviors that will allow your body to fall asleep faster.
Avoid alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine in the evening.
Find ways to wind down, such as with relaxation techniques, and make them part of your daily routine.
Avoid blue light exposure for at least an hour before bed. The exposures often come from our phones, computers, and televisions.
Get regular exercise and exposure to natural light during the daytime.
If you successfully implement strategies like these but still have issues with poor sleep, please be sure to discuss these issues with your healthcare provider.