How Sleep Affects Your Mental Health
What came first, the chicken or the egg and other questions like this will puzzle us for years to come. For most people though they are the questions we hypothesize over with friends at the end of a long weekend away when we’ve talked to death about all the relevant subjects.
However, there is a more serious question and that is – what came first, your struggle with mental health or your lack of sleep? You see, many people believe poor quality sleep causes their fatigue. However, fatigue is also linked to increased stress, depression and anxiety. The stress, depression and anxiety cause the fatigue rather than fatigue causes the stress, depression and anxiety. If you do not notice any problems with sleep and you get at least seven hours sleep on average each night but you still feel tired consider your mental health and whether there is something amiss.
How Sleep Affects Mental Health
Research shows strong links between sleep and mental health. The link is bidirectional and treating sleep disruptions reduces other mental health problems – specifically insomnia. Researchers call for interventions on sleep at an early stage, as a prevention strategy for the onset of clinical disorders. Whilst your current mental health struggle may be mild, dealing with any sleep issue now might prevent progression into something more severe.
Sleep has a variety of purposes, when we sleep our brain consolidates memories and processes information. Sleep disturbances prevent the brain from fully committing new experiences to memory. Frustratingly the strongest impact of sleep deprivation is on processing positive emotional stimuli. This has the potential to create an imbalance in emotional memory so the negative dominates.
Research consistently shows that 90% of people with major depression struggle with sleep and sleep loss is likely to decrease positive mood and increase susceptibility to anxiety and depression. Those with disrupted sleep tend to have poor emotional regulation and interestingly are more likely to perceive neutral stimuli as negative. Further effects of poor sleep are; increased perception of pain, poor problem solving and an inability to fully concentrate. In addition the immune system weakens so the likelihood of illness is greater.
What Constitutes Sleep Disturbances?
The previous paragraph refers to sleep difficulties and issues. The way we live might mean you have sleep disturbances that you do not recognise. You enjoy playing video games and choose to stay up until the early hours of the morning playing with your friends, even though the alarm will shriek at 6am. A coffee first thing will get you through right? Or maybe you enjoy socialising but that quick catch up with a friend after work turned into a long dinner and chats into the middle of the night.
You climb into bed at 10pm and feel good knowing that you’ll have eight hours of sleep before the 6am alarm call. You just want a last check of your emails before putting the phone down to sleep.
When you’re reading the last email a Facebook notification comes through, you click through and feel drawn to an Instagram post so you have a quick scroll through Facebook before switching to Instagram. You notice there are some new stories on the feed so you watch them. Someone has tagged something that looks interesting and you click on it. As you’re scrolling through the next feed you realise an hour has passed. You feel ok, as though you have some time to play with anyway. You continue as do the diversions. Before long you find yourself watching a YouTube video, but it’s ok it’s only twenty minutes long. It feels as though just five minutes have passed but the clock suddenly strikes midnight. Your eight hours of sleep has become six and that is if you fall asleep right now. Eventually you pull yourself away from the socials and allow your eyes to close. This is normal life for you and you do not consider yourself to have sleep difficulties but you certainly have sleep disturbances.
If you have sleep difficulties you will have sleep disturbances but many people suffer the effects of sleep difficulties due to disturbances they do not recognise as such.
In this article I speak about blue light, the circadian rhythm and why your phone might impede healthy sleep. You will find some tips on reducing your phone screen time if this is something that prevents you from falling asleep in time to get the sleep your body needs. It is well known that the blue light from screens affects sleep due to the way the circadian rhythm works, but less known is that LED lights also emit strong blue light. If you have bright LED lights in your home consider some lamps with older light bulbs to use once the sun sets.
The circadian rhythm is actually slightly longer than 24 hours – closer to 25hours. We can reset our circadian rhythm daily by getting sunlight early in the morning. Without this there is the risk of developing non 24 hour sleep wake rhythm disorder. This is just one of many circadian rhythm disorders which occur when your sleep time is out of alignment. People who have non 24 hour sleep wake rhythm disorder find their sleep time and therefore their wake time shifting a little later each day. Light is the main way to reset the body clock each day so early morning light, preferably sunlight is important. A ten minute early morning walk with the sunrise will reset your body clock to keep in sync with our 24 hour day system.
Hypnotherapy for Sleep
If you need to improve your mental health and have tried everything to better your sleep a session with a hypnotherapist might help you. Hypnosis is a wonderful tool that you can learn how to use. Similar to meditation, hypnosis will give you the power to change aspects of your life and also give you a state of mind that helps your body move from an anxious state into a calm state in which you feel in control. Learn more about how sleep affects mental health here.
Klinzing JG, Niethard N, Born J. Mechanisms of systems memory consolidation during sleep. Nat Neurosci. 2019 Oct;22(10):1598-1610. doi: 10.1038/s41593-019-0467-3. Epub 2019 Aug 26. Erratum in: Nat Neurosci. 2019 Sep 11;: PMID: 31451802.
Walker, M. P., & van der Helm, E. (2009). Overnight therapy? The role of sleep in emotional brain processing. Psychological bulletin, 135(5), 731–748. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0016570
Freeman D, Sheaves B, Waite F, Harvey AG, Harrison PJ. Sleep disturbance and psychiatric disorders. Lancet Psychiatry. 2020 Jul;7(7):628-637. doi: 10.1016/S2215-0366(20)30136-X. PMID: 32563308.