The Impact of Sleep on Mental Health

Getting a good night of quality sleep is essential for not only our physical well being, but our mental wellbeing as well. 

An article by Helpline shares that sleep deprivation can lead to a host of problems including memory issues; trouble with thinking, focus and concentration; an increased risk for accidents; negative mood changes; a weakened immune system; high blood pressure; low-sex drive; weight gain; increased risk of heart disease; poor balance/coordination; and an increased risk for developing diabetes. Yikes. 

Fortunately, there are many ways to prevent these issues and get better sleep. Read on to learn more about the brain and body connection between sleep and mental health—and how to improve both.



The Link Between Sleep & Pre-Existing Mental Health Disorders

According to the Sleep Foundation, research shows that there is a close connection between sleep and mental health. 

The article goes on to say, “Each stage [of sleep] plays a role in brain health, allowing activity in different parts of the brain to ramp up or down and enabling better thinking, learning, and memory. Research has also uncovered that brain activity during sleep has profound effects on emotional and mental health.”

Those with pre-existing mental health disorders are more likely to be impacted by poor sleep quality and not getting enough sleep in the first place, than those who are neurotypical (a.k.a. people who don’t have behavioral or mental health conditions, or those with developmental disabilities). A strong link has been shown between sleep and different mental health disorders and developmental disorders including depression, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), anxiety disorder, PTSD, bipolar disorder(s), schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Around 75% of people with a depressive disorder (such as major depression), for example, show symptoms of insomnia.

While poor sleep can worsen symptoms of these mental health disorders, the opposite is also true—these mental illnesses themselves can also cause poor sleep. 

“There is evidence of a bidirectional relationship between sleep and ADHD,” according to the Sleep Foundation. “In addition to being a consequence of ADHD, sleep problems may aggravate symptoms like reduced attention span or behavior problems.”



Benefits of Getting Good Sleep

Just as poor sleep can worsen mental health, good sleep can improve overall mental health. The benefits for our mental health of getting quality sleep are numerous. A good sleep routine will help lead to high-quality sleep, resulting in reduced stress levels, improved mood, more energy, less anxiety, improved focus and memory.

So what is good sleep? Well, “good sleep” isn’t just the amount of sleep you’re getting, but the quality of your sleep as well. Optimal sleep entails getting enough of both REM and non-REM sleep cycles. 

What is REM? This acronym stands for rapid eye movement sleep. During this stage of sleep, eyes move around rapidly in a range of directions without sending visual cues to the brain. REM sleep usually kicks in about 90 minutes after you’ve fallen asleep, with multiple periods of REM sleep occurring throughout the night, each one longer than the last. REM sleep is crucial for dreaming, deep sleep, and brain activity during the sleep cycle.

Non-REM sleep, on the other hand, is needed for REM sleep to take place. In the final stage of non-REM sleep, your body regrows and repairs tissues, builds bones and muscles and strengthens the immune systems.

Think of REM sleep and non-REM sleep as two halves of a whole: They go hand in hand to help your brain and your body function properly. 

It’s a balancing act getting just enough of both REM and non-REM sleep. Hence why getting enough sleep—but not too much sleep—is the goal. Because of this, doctors generally recommend getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night. 

For more information about what happens during these different sleep cycles, check out this article by WebMD. 



Tips for Better Sleep

Good news—there are plenty of scientifically backed ways to improve your quality of sleep.

Here are Our Tips for Improving Your Sleep:

  1. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day and night—even on the weekends. It may take some time, but this will help your body set its own internalized clock, resulting in more restful sleep and more energy in the morning.
  2. Avoid screens at least an hour before bedtime. This is because the blue light emitted by screens can interfere with the body’s natural circadian rhythm making it harder to fall asleep.
  3. Be mindful about the media you consume before bedtime—negative content (such as watching a distressing movie or the news) before bedtime can result in bad dreams and interrupted sleep.
  4. Create a relaxing bedtime routine that you do every night. Over time, this will create a signal for your brain and body that it’s time to sleep. Reading a book, drinking a cup of non-caffeinated tea, taking a bath, or practicing mindfulness meditation are great places to start.
  5. Create a comfortable sleeping environment by getting a comfy bed and pillow set-up, and sleeping in a quiet, cool and dark environment. A sleeping mask, ear plugs or a white noise machine can also be used to achieve an ideal bedtime state.
  6. Exercise regularly. Exercise helps improve sleep quality and promotes restfulness. However, avoid working out close to bedtime as it can trigger your brain and body to be active.
  7. Limit caffeine and alcohol consumption, especially in the couple of hours before going to bed.


If you need more help with your mental health, therapy is a great place to start. To learn more about Valera Health’s virtual therapy services and more, request a free consultation with a designated Health Connector or visit


Valera Health’s Anxiety and Trauma Group Can Help Survivors Heal—Here’s How

When one thinks of group therapy, a circle of folding chairs and stale coffee at the back of the room may come to mind. However, contrary to stereotypical depictions, group therapy presents an opportunity to heal and embrace change among peers.

The efficacy of group therapy in generating positive outcomes is widely supported in scientific literature (McRoberts et al. 1998). But what makes group therapy effective at addressing distressing feelings? One factor for consideration is cohesion, the degree to which a group connects together. The greater the level of cohesion, the more that group members will experience beneficial results (Burlingame et al., 2011). 

Engagement in a cohesive therapy group can generate feelings of community, group membership, belongingness and support. Furthermore, group therapy meetings can function as a learning environment in which a therapist can share helpful resources, members can learn from the stories of their peers, and most people in the group improve their communication skills.

Benefits of Group Therapy for Anxiety and for Trauma Survivors

Group therapy has shown to be especially helpful when it comes to decreasing anxiety and trauma symptoms (Mendelsohn et al., 2008). Survivors of trauma often experience isolation and may withdraw from relationships. Group therapy can address this particular issue by creating a sense of community in which the survivor feels safe and supported (Mendelsohn et al., 2008). 

Additionally, for those experiencing anxiety, group therapy can be helpful by providing a safe space where fears and worries are validated. Valera Health is pleased to introduce the newest addition to our group therapy programs: Anxiety and Trauma Group. This virtual group was designed to be a safe space for patients to discuss life transitions, school stress, stress around relationships, and the challenges that arise with decision-making. Another focus of the group is using coping skills to navigate daily stressors and other symptoms of anxiety. If you are experiencing anxiety or trauma-related symptoms, we encourage you to consider joining this group.

How to Enroll in a Valera Health Anxiety and Trauma Group

If you’re interested in signing up for Valera Health’s virtual Anxiety and Trauma Group, or would like to learn more, please fill out this quick form to schedule a consultation with a designated Health Connector. Make sure to select “group therapy” under the “What brings you to therapy today?” section. Please note that at this current time, our virtual Anxiety and Trauma Support Group* is only available to those in New York. Stay tuned for more group therapy offerings from Valera Health in the future.

*Although most health insurances are accepted, HealthFirst patients are ineligible for insurance coverage at this time.

Works Cited:

Burlingame, G. M., McClendon, D. T., & Alonso, J. (2011). Cohesion in group therapy. Psychotherapy, 48(1), 34.

McRoberts, C., Burlingame, G. M., & Hoag, M. J. (1998). Comparative efficacy of individual and group psychotherapy: A meta-analytic perspective. Group dynamics: Theory, research, and practice, 2(2), 101.

Mendelsohn, M., Zachary, R. S., & Harney, P. A. (2007). Group therapy as an ecological bridge to new community for trauma survivors. Journal of aggression, maltreatment & trauma, 14(1-2), 227-243.

This Valentine’s Day, Write a Love Letter to Yourself

Valentine’s Day is best known for being a romantic holiday—but you don’t need a romantic partner to celebrate, because love comes in all forms! That’s why this Valentine’s Day, we’re putting the focus on self-love. What is self-love? It’s much more than a buzzword—in fact, self-love can lead to a better life and more fulfilling mental state. 

A blog post by PsychCentral puts it this way, “Self-love means that you accept yourself fully, treat yourself with kindness and respect, and nurture your growth and wellbeing.Self-love encompasses not only how you treat yourself but also your thoughts and feelings about yourself.”

One facet of self-love is saying positive things about yourself. Regardless of your relationship status, this Valentine’s Day we challenge you to exercise this important practice of self-love by expressing your gratitude for yourself by writing a love letter to yourself.


How to Write a Love Letter to Yourself

Start with the following prompt:

“Dear [insert your name here],

I’m wishing you a very happy Valentine’s Day! I’m a wonderful person, worth being grateful for. 

Here are 10 things I love about myself:

  • I love…
  • I love…
  • I love…
  • I love…
  • I love…
  • I love…
  • I love…
  • I love…
  • I love…
  • I love…


[insert your name here]”

Be sure to write 10 or more things you love about yourself. Take time to really think these through—especially if you’ve had a hard time feeling confident lately. These can be either things about your personality and strengths, or physical attributes, but we’ve personally found including a combination of the two helps for a holistic self-love fest. 

Sometimes we are much more judgemental about ourselves than we would ever be about a stranger or a friend. Think about writing this letter to yourself as if you were your best friend or your secret admirer. 

To make your love letter extra special, buy a pretty Valentine’s Day card to write it on or bust out a fancy piece of stationery paper. Although you can type up your letter if you prefer, we recommend handwriting it with your favorite pen to make it extra special. Don’t forget to seal it in an envelope and write your name on it! Then on Valentine’s Day, open up the envelope and soak up the self-love.


Other Ways to Practice Self-Love This Valentine’s Day

In addition to writing a love letter for yourself, there are plenty of other ways to celebrate you this Valentine’s Day.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Buy yourself a fresh bouquet of red roses or your favorite flowers
  • Munch on some Valentine’s Day candy—there’s something special about those heart shaped boxes of chocolate!
  • Take yourself out on a date—head to your favorite restaurant, cook yourself a nice meal, or head to the movie theater to watch that new film you’ve been wanting to see! 
  • Take a long bath with scented bath bombs and candles
  • Get a massage
  • Buy yourself a Valentine’s Day gift
  • Do whatever your favorite thing is—today is your day!

Check out our blog post all about the long-term benefits of self-care for more ideas. 


How Therapy Can Help You Practice Self-Love

Still struggling with self-love? Therapy can help us to better understand and appreciate ourselves. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), for example, has been shown to be one of the most effective forms of therapy for improving low self-esteem. At Valera Health, our therapists are highly experienced in CBT as well as many other forms of therapy. To learn more, request a free consultation with a designated health connector or visit