This World Mental Health Day, we’re taking a deeper look at how sleep — or lack of — can affect your mental health. With roughly one in five Australians reporting mental health conditions , it’s essential that we understand how to avoid making the side effects worse. We’ll discuss how sleep and your mental health interact and provide tips for improving your sleep and overall wellbeing.
How does sleep affect your mental health?
In essence, mental illnesses are a result of problems with the communication between neurons in the brain. To keep many of the functions in the body in check, these neurons must communicate with each other with the help of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. There is strong evidence that imbalances in neurotransmitters can cause abnormalities in the communication between neurons . In layperson’s terms, if the brain isn’t sending the correct messages to the body, symptoms of mental illness may arise.
So, where does sleep come into it? Well, neurons rely on sleep to properly function. Sleep provides rest for the connections between neurons, in which time they can recuperate and get ready to tackle the next day. By that logic, a lack of sleep leads to overworked neurons that are less capable of healthy performance.
An overnighter, for instance, can impact your cognition and may lead to a poor mood. Over the long term, poor sleep due to insomnia may put you at a higher risk of mental illnesses such as depression.
5 ways sleep can boost your mental health
Our understanding of how sleep and mental health interact has long been oversimplified — that sleep problems are a symptom of mental health conditions. The flaw in this is it fails to acknowledge the sleep and mental health feedback loop.
While it’s true that lack of sleep is a symptom, it’s also important to recognise it as a cause. Here are five ways in which adequate sleep can boost mental health.
1. Improving mood and easing stress
Poor sleep is a one-way ticket to irritability. A lack of sleep makes you more impulsive and sensitive to negative stimuli, minimising your ability to stay level-headed in stressful situations. One study found that adults who slept less than eight hours a night reported more stress than those sleeping eight or more hours. This only snowballs as stress may inhibit your ability to fall into a deep sleep, where the brain and body can restore themselves.
With sufficient sleep, you’re able to avoid these harmful patterns and your brain is better able to regulate mood and cope with stress.
2. Processing memories
If you’ve ever been told to get a good night’s sleep before an exam, you may be happy to learn that there’s science behind it. During sleep, our brain is busy processing emotional information and memories. The brain consolidates and organises our memories, helping us absorb the information we took in during the day.
During healthy REM sleep specifically, research has found that we process potentially painful experiences and memories, helping us unlearn negative associations. A lack of sleep can be harmful to this process and is linked to mental health disorders and their severity.
3. Enabling focus
The day after a night spent tossing and turning, you’ll no doubt feel distracted. The sound of your colleague typing loudly or morning traffic may seem more noticeable than they usually do.
Your concentration is quickly lost when you’ve slept poorly. A University of Sydney study found through a series of tests that those with insomnia found it harder to focus than those who slept well. In addition, the more severe the insomnia, the worse the focus became.
A well-rested person avoids this lack of focus as their brain chemicals are wired for productivity rather than distraction.
4. Avoiding new mental health disorders
Much like how sleep can aggravate the symptoms of pre-existing mental health conditions, it can also cause mental dysfunction.
Research has revealed that people who experience insomnia have double the risk of developing depression over those who sleep normally. Another study found that generalised anxiety disorder could be predicted in children and teens who have problems sleeping.
While a wide range of factors contributes to the development of mental illnesses, getting a better night’s sleep may boost your baseline mental health and avoid complications in the future.
5. Maintaining physical health
The link between mental and physical health is no secret. The two are so intertwined that you can’t separate them — good mental health is dependent on good physical health and vice versa.
When your body gets sufficient sleep, your immune cells get the rest they need to fight off illnesses that come their way. Research has also shown that sleep can improve the effectiveness of vaccines, which in our current climate can’t hurt.
Improve your sleep and wellbeing
Here are some steps you can take to better your sleep and therefore boost your mental health:
- Manage screen time: One hour before you sleep, turn off all electronic devices. These can stimulate the brain and restrict melatonin production.
- Meditate: Meditation can have relaxing effects, putting you in the right headspace for a healthy night’s sleep.
- Develop a sleep routine: Whether it’s reading a book or taking a warm bath, do something consistently to help your body prepare for sleep.
- Make sure you’re comfortable: Your sleep quality may be jeopardised by a springy mattress or old pillow. If you’re waking up throughout the night with aches and pains, it could be time to upgrade to higher quality bedding products (mattress or pillow).
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol: Avoid caffeine 10 hours before your bedtime and alcohol four.
How BeddingCo can help
We spend roughly a third of our lives asleep, so it’s important we do it right. Sleep disruptions as a consequence of uncomfortable or unsuitable bedding are more common than you’d think, which is where we come in.
Sleep soundly on a therapeutic mattress that conforms to your body or between soft and breathable Egyptian cotton sheets, and enjoy the peaceful night’s sleep that you deserve.