Want to Protect Your Mental Health? Experts Say: Get More Sleep

Apr 1, 2019 6:15 AM ET

Mental health experts have been aware of the link between sleep and mental illness for quite a while now. After all, around 40 percent of patients diagnosed with a mental illness have also reported having sleep issues. However, recent evidence has shown that this link is more different than doctors may have imagined.

There is now a body of research that suggests that poor or disrupted sleeping patterns are a cause rather than just a symptom of mental illness. A lack of sleep or bad sleeping habits could be what is triggering various mental illnesses. To understand this link, let’s take a closer look at the evidence.

Understand, most psychiatrists and researchers presumed that mental illness is what led to sleeping issues. This is largely because a number of individuals have been treated for depression, bipolar disorder, and other mental illnesses exhibit sleeping problems.

Impact of Sleep on Mental Health

It is important to realize just how important sleep is for your mental and physiological health. Although it can appear that your brain and body are simply resting while you are, this isn’t exactly the case. Let’s breakdown what really happens while you are sleeping.

Your sleep can be categorized into two, main stages – non-REM and REM sleep. Now, the first stage – non-REM, is what helps to keep you physically healthy. During this stage, your breathing will slow, your temperature will drop, your heart rate will become more even, and your muscles will relax. This is associated with improved immune function and overall health.

Then, there is REM sleep, which is commonly associated with dreaming. When you enter this stage, your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and body temperature resemble your waking levels. This isn’t all that happens, though. It has been discovered that this stage also works to regulate and improve memory, learning, and mental health.

When your REM sleep is disrupted, there is some disturbance with neurotransmitters and stress hormones as well. When this happens, there is an increased chance of impaired thinking and a lack of emotional regulation. Over time, such a state can lead to worsened mental illness symptoms.

If you have already been diagnosed with a mental illness, poor sleep can exacerbate your symptoms as well. As you are well aware, a lack of sleep can make it more difficult to regulate your emotions and make good decisions. Thus, after several nights of disrupted sleep, it isn’t uncommon to find it quite hard to cope with symptoms of mental illness as well.

Such observations haven’t just been made with adults, however. There is growing evidence that teenagers’ mental health can be compromised just as much – if not more – by a lack of sleep.  For instance, it was discovered that teenagers with poor sleeping habits were more likely to experience suicidal thoughts and symptoms of depression.

How Sleep Can Improve Mental Health Symptoms

Clearly, poor sleep goes hand in hand with a deterioration of mental health. The most logical assumption, therefore, must be that improving sleeping patterns should also improve mental health as well. Now, there is some evidence to prove this fact.

In one study, researchers intervened with patients suffering from insomnia and symptoms such as paranoia and hallucinations. Relying on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), the participants were aided in improving their overall sleep patterns. At the end of the research, these individuals reported a reduction in both of their initial symptoms.

It isn’t just this study, though, that supports such a train of thought. As mentioned, adequate sleep helps to promote emotional regulation and mental faculties. Such capabilities, alone, can make people diagnosed with mental illness to deal with a number of symptoms associated with their condition.

How to Get Better Sleep

So, what does all of this research show? Well, it proves that proper sleeping habits are critical to maintaining or improving the state of your mental health. This, unfortunately, is easier said than done considering that between 22 and 44 percent of the American populace have reported sleeping issues.

So, clearly, the first order of business is to teach people how to improve their sleeping habits. The good news is that thanks to helpful sites like thesleepdistrict.com there is more information available than ever before.

Perhaps the most important thing that you can do to sleep better is to make some important lifestyle changes. The first, of course, is exercise. Getting more exercise each day has proven to help people sleep better. So, try to get in a workout that lasts around thirty minutes to an hour each day.

As an added bonus, exercise also helps to alleviate the symptoms of stress and anxiousness that is prevalent among those with depression and anxiety disorders. The reduction of these symptoms can further help to boost a good night’s sleep.

There is also significant proof to show that diet also has an impact on your sleep quality. A poor diet can make it more difficult for you to fall asleep. This is especially true for people with digestive issues. At the same time, eating certain foods such as milk, fatty fish, and kiwis for the last meal of your day can actually work to improve the quality of your sleep.

It is important to keep in mind that using digital devices close to bedtime can also disrupt sleep. This is true for both adults as well as children. For one thing, the blue light emitted by the screens of these devices can actually throw off your body’s natural, circadian rhythm.  As a result, you may find it more difficult to fall asleep.

Not to mention, these devices keep your mind alert until you put them away. So, if you use them until the very last moment, your mind may still be activated. Thus, you may be unable to calm your thoughts and fall asleep right away.

At the end of the day, there is no denying that the link between poor sleep and poor mental health is too strong to deny. However, being aware of this connection can improve your chances of leading a healthy and wholesome life considerably. Now that you are aware of the effects of sleep deprivation on your mental health, take steps to improve the quality of your sleep.

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