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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 valerahealth.com.