The links between sleep and mental health

You’ve probably personally experienced how a lack of sleep or poor-quality sleep can affect your mood, but the link between mental health and sleep goes well beyond simple grumpiness.

As research into the relationship between sleep and mental health continues, there appears to be agreement that the relationship is bidirectional:1,2

  • Mental health issues tend to make quality sleep harder
  • Poor sleep can contribute to the cause of mental health problems and/or make them worse

Solving mental health issues is beyond the scope of this article, but perhaps we can explore the relationship further and provide some tips for better sleeping.

Sleep is the great restorer – not just for our body, but also for our brain. When we sleep, the brain is recharged and that’s also when memories, emotions and new information are processed and filed away for so we can retrieve them later.

Let’s talk about the impact of sleep, or lack thereof, on our emotions. We know it affects our mood, making us irritable, but it can also make us more sensitive and impulsive.2

A study looking at one part of the brain (the amygdala) in sleep-deprived people showed that it went into overdrive. In fact, it was 60% more reactive in those study participants.2 So, it can make you more prone to overreact to situations in an angry way, and perhaps too impulsive. Meanwhile, another part of the brain (prefrontal cortex) is also impacted with poor sleep, which makes the risk of impulsive behaviour worse.2

A lack of sleep also messes with hormone regulation which can cause imbalances in the chemicals in the brain and elsewhere. One of the most important of those imbalanced chemicals is a hormone called cortisol – sometimes called the stress hormone.2

When we don’t get enough sleep, too much cortisol is produced, putting our body in a constant state of stress. This also has a knock-on effect of weight gain and anxiety – which keeps you awake, and the cycle continues.

We have several articles to help you on this site, such as Trouble Sleeping and Insomnia and ways to overcome it that will give you some tips on improving sleep, but in a nutshell – practise good sleep hygiene (see articles mentioned), avoid caffeine at night, and, above all try and reduce your potential exposure to light.

That’s why a sleep eye mask could change your life. A study investigating the impact of just 5 minutes of light exposure through the evening, (for example, a bathroom visit by your partner), found this delays sleep hormone (melatonin) release by a staggering 2.3 hours, leading to the inability to sleep through the night, and greater morning fatigue.3

Check out the comfortable and affordable Dreamlight Masks available on our official Australian distributor website Smart Wellness.

We all love our sleep, but hopefully we’ve convinced you that it’s not just a way of restoring yourself physically – sleep quality has a huge impact on your mental health and wellbeing, so make it a priority.

Sources:

1. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/mental-health               

2. https://www.pcpcc.org/resource/sleep-and-mental-health-why-our-brains-need-sleep

3. Olivia Arezzolo blog/Body and Soul article

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