Snoozing Your Way To Better Mental Health – The Unexpected Benefits Of Getting More Sleep

Table of Contents

You drag yourself out of bed after a mostly sleepless night, head throbbing and mind numb. As exhaustion sets in, you feel emotionally frayed, unable to concentrate or shake free of the dark cloud ruining your day. We all know the crushing aftermath of poor sleep. But few realize just how severely lack of sleep sabotages mental health over the long-term.

 

Chronic sleep deprivation is a hidden contributor to rising rates of anxiety, depression, and mood disorders. Over 30% of American adults fail to get the recommended minimum hours of nightly sleep. Repeat this pattern night after night, and the brain suffers cascading consequences – altered chemistry, disadvantaged emotional processing, and weakened coping skills. Researchers are now working to unravel the complex interplay between the depth of our nightly slumber and daytime well-being.

The science of sleep and mental health

Sleep isn’t just a passive activity; it’s an active process involving various brain functions. Research has shown that sleep is pivotal in brain health, affecting everything from mood regulation to cognitive functions . Sleep can disrupt neural pathways responsible for emotional processing, leading to mood swings and irritability.  Lack of sleep can turn our emotional world upside down. It’s like walking around with an amplifier on your emotions; everything feels more intense.

Sleep deprivation can impair cognitive functions such as memory, decision-making, and attention. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine points out that chronic sleep loss can lead to significant reductions in performance, akin to being intoxicated.

Stress and sleep have a bit of a love-hate relationship. Stress can make it harder to sleep, and in turn, lack of sleep makes us more susceptible to stress. This cycle can be particularly harmful to mental health. Persistent stress can lead to insomnia , and insomnia can feed into disorders like depression and anxiety.

The relationship between sleep and mental disorders is complex. Conditions like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder can disrupt sleep patterns, while inadequate sleep can exacerbate these conditions. Treating sleep disorders can often improve the symptoms of a mental health condition and vice versa.

Effects_of_sleep_deprivation
Effects of sleep deprivation, Credit; Wikimedia/ Mikael Häggström

Lifestyle choices and sleep hygiene

While the mental toll of repeated sleepless nights may seem dire, the good news is we have more control than we realize. By improving daily lifestyle habits and sleep hygiene, we can support consistent, restorative sleep that pays dividends for both emotional health and quality of life.

 

The foundational pillar is maintaining a fixed sleep schedule aligned to your natural circadian rhythm by going to bed and waking consistently, even on weekends. Committing to a soothing pre-bed routine triggers the body’s preparation for sleep by unwinding from the day’s stresses. This includes avoiding digital screens and caffeine for 1-2 hours before getting into bed in favor of relaxation techniques like gentle yoga, reading fiction, or taking a warm bath.

 

Once in bed, ensure your sleep environment facilitates falling and staying asleep by keeping the bedroom cool, extremely dark, and quiet. Consider blackout curtains, a white noise machine, and limiting interruptions like pets walking around. Getting exposure to natural daylight first thing in the morning also stabilizes the sleep-wake cycle.

 

While no singular adjustment results in high-quality sleep, collectively, they stack the odds in your favor night after night. Prioritizing healthy sleep and consistent bedtime habits strengthens the fortress, defending against the ravages of stress, emotional imbalance, and mental health conditions

Glossary

Sleep Deprivation: The condition of not getting enough sleep; it can be either chronic or acute.

 

Neural Pathways: Networks in the brain that transmit signals between different brain areas and the nervous system.

 

Cognitive Functions: Mental processes that include thinking, knowing, remembering, judging, and problem-solving.

 

Insomnia: A common sleep disorder that can make it hard to fall asleep, hard to stay asleep, or cause you to wake up too early and not be able to get back to sleep.

Chattu VK, Sakhamuri SM, Kumar R, Spence DW, BaHammam AS, Pandi-Perumal SR. Insufficient Sleep Syndrome: Is it time to classify it as a major noncommunicable disease? Sleep Sci. 2018 Mar-Apr;11(2):56-64

 

Watson NF, Badr MS, Belenky G, et al.. Joint consensus statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society on the recommended amount of sleep for a healthy adult: methodology and discussion. J Clin Sleep Med. 2015;11(8):931–952.

 

Scott AJ, Webb TL, Martyn-St James M, Rowse G, Weich S. Improving sleep quality leads to better mental health: A meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Sleep Med Rev. 2021 Dec;60:101556. doi: 10.1016/j.smrv.2021.101556. Epub 2021 Sep 23.

Contributors

Copyright @smorescience. All rights reserved. Do not copy, cite, publish, or distribute this content without permission.


Join 20,000+ parents and educators
To get the FREE science newsletter in your inbox!