Sleep and mental health are intricately intertwined. When we go without enough of either, both suffer. Often someone struggling with their mental health never questions their sleep habits, and vice versa. This article will address the link between sleep and mental health and outline several steps we can take to improve our sleep to benefit our mental wellbeing.
Sleep Debt and Its Effects
The effects of sleep deprivation, or a buildup of “sleep debt,” can be seen well before we reach extreme levels of fatigue. For example, cortisol levels increase when we miss a night of sleep and remain elevated, leading to depressed mood and increased frustration. Memory consolidation and overall cognitive functioning are slowed down and inhibited. Poor sleep also increases the risk for anxiety, depression, and even psychosis when we have chronic deficits with sleep.
The Significance of Adequate Sleep
Getting enough sleep is essential for healthy cognitive and emotional functioning. Furthermore, it is essential for improving mental illnesses and mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. Healthy sleep has been found to offer benefits for mental health on multiple fronts. Sleep quality, duration, and continuity are all associated with enhanced emotion regulation and improved cognitive functioning in those with mental health issues.
When It Comes to Mental Health and Sleep, Quality is Crucial
Sleep isn’t just a means of rest, but also an active, cognitively demanding process that is crucial for optimal mental health. The brains of those with mental illness such as depression or anxiety display changes in their sleep architecture. This means that the timing and structure of their sleep is changed, leading to what is known as circadian disruption.
The following components of sleep quality are a marker of both healthy mental health and improved sleep:
- Sleep Efficiency
Sleep efficiency is the amount of time you are asleep compared to the amount of time spent in the availability for sleep. This can be determined by looking at the ratio between total sleep time spent in bed to actual sleep time achieved.
- Sleep Latency
Sleep latency is the time it takes you to fall asleep once you have chosen to do so. It is a measure of how quickly you are able to transition from wakefulness to sleep.
- Number of Awakenings
The number of times you wake up during the night and are unable to fall asleep again can have a major impact on your overall sleep quality.
- Sleep Fragmentation
Fragmented sleep is when you wake up briefly multiple times during the night but continue sleeping without extended wake episodes.
Ways to Improve Sleep Quality
Optimizing sleep quality can be a major contributor to better mental health and emotional wellness. The following are some tips to improve sleep and reap the benefits of better mental health:
- Create a Consistent Bedtime Routine
A consistent bedtime routine, including a few calming activities like reading or stretching, can help you to ease into sleep. This routine should be practiced every single night so that your body learns to associate certain activities with sleep and gets ready earlier than when you develop a sporadic bedtime schedule.
One of the best ways to improve both mental and physical health is exercise. Even moderate aerobic exercise for 20-30 minutes a day has been found to improve long-term sleep quality and duration due to its ability to reduce stress and anxiety.
- Incorporate Relaxation Techniques
Relaxation techniques such as meditating, breathing exercises, and muscle relaxation can help prepare the body for sleep by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system. This has been found to reduce arousal levels and bring about a calmer, softer sleep.
- Avoid Caffeine After 4pm
Caffeine is a stimulant that can interfere with both falling asleep and staying asleep. Therefore, drinking caffeine late in the day can significantly disrupt sleep cycles. Limiting caffeine to earlier in the day is a good way to improve sleep quality and duration.
- Make the Bedroom TV, Laptop, and Phone-Free
Our bedroom should be a place of comfort, not distraction. To help ensure that sleep is of the highest quality, try to avoid using electronic devices or watching TV in bed. This will help your mind associate the bedroom with sleep and help you to relax and turn off before bed.
- Keep the Bedroom Dark
Darkness is nature’s way of telling us when it’s time to sleep. Immediately before bed and while sleeping, it is important to keep the bedroom as dark and quiet as possible. Investing in blackout curtains or blinds can be a great way to guarantee darkness while you’re sleeping.
Getting enough quality sleep is essential for maintaining good mental health. The effects of sleep deprivation can be seen in people with mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. It is important to recognize the connection between sleep and mental health and develop strategies to optimize our sleep to be the best version of ourselves. Making small changes to bedtime routines and the bedroom environment can have a big impact on sleep quality, and ultimately our emotional wellbeing.