- Posted by Jon Harju
- On February 18, 2020
There’s a close relationship between sleep and our mental wellness. Many mental health conditions can negatively affect how well you sleep, and in turn, poor sleep can harm your mental well-being.
The importance of sleep
Sleep is a basic human need that is critical to both our physical and mental health. The body typically works on a 24-hour cycle (circadian rhythm), helping us know when to sleep. The amount of sleep we need varies for each individual and age group, but typically an adult requires seven to nine hours of restful sleep each night, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
Many of us are not getting enough sleep
Studies show that 1 in 2 Candian adults have trouble going to sleep or staying asleep. This affects both physical and mental health since 36% of adults who get insufficient sleep report having chronic stress compared to 23% of adults who get adequate sleep.
These numbers may not come as a surprise, considering the demands of working families, caring for loved ones, managing high expectations at work, financial pressures and more.
Additional factors such as shift work, jet lag, a change in medication/withdrawal from medication, ageing, menopause and excess use of caffeine, alcohol, or stimulants, can all contribute to missing out on much-needed sleep.
What are sleep disorders?
Sleep disorders involve problems with the quality, timing and amount of sleep we get, affecting our daily functioning. There are several different types of sleep disorders, with insomnia being the most common. Other sleep disorders include narcolepsy, obstructive sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome.
Symptoms of a sleep disorder
Symptoms depend on the type of disorder you have, but typically you:
- Feel tired during the day
- Have trouble falling or staying asleep
- Stop breathing briefly and often while asleep (apnea)
- Have uncomfortable feelings in your legs with the urge to move them (restless legs syndrome)
How poor sleep affects your mental health
When poor sleep has a significant impact on your daily life, you may find a sleep problem can lead to:
- Having negative thoughts, feeling depressed or anxious.
- Increased irritability, reduced patience, inability to rationalize worries, thoughts and feelings of depressed or low mood.Feeling lonely or isolated because your tiredness stops you from being sociable.
How your mental health can affect sleep problems
Sleep problems can both contribute to or exacerbate a mental health condition as well as being a symptom of other mental health conditions. Studies show that 12% of adults who get insufficient sleep report having poor mental health compared to 5% of adults who get adequate sleep.
Insomnia and depression
Insomnia, or difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, is among the most common sleep disorders and is a risk factor for both depression and major depressive disorder. In one study, 40% of participants with insomnia had a mental illness. Insomnia can show a person is at high risk for becoming depressed. If the insomnia is treated, depression may be prevented.
There are a number of ways a mental health problem can affect your sleep:
- Anxiety can cause overthinking and problematic thoughts, making it difficult to sleep.
- Depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can lead to oversleeping – either sleeping late in the morning or sleeping a lot during the day.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can cause nightmares and night terrors, disturbing sleep. A person can feel anxious about falling asleep, which may lead to insomnia.
- Paranoia and psychosis may make it difficult to sleep. Hearing voices or seeing things is a frightening experience that disturbs thoughts, and can make it hard to fall asleep.
- Mania can cause racing thoughts and feelings of energy and elation – all of which can make it hard to fall asleep and may cause insomnia.
- Psychiatric medication can cause side effects, including insomnia, disturbed sleep or oversleeping. Sleep problems can arise after a person stops taking psychiatric drugs.
How to cope with sleep problems
When anxious thoughts keep you awake at night, it may be difficult to get rid of them since there are few distractions in the middle of the night. Anxiety often worsens in a circular feedback loop when we watch the clock and feel more worried as time goes on without falling back to sleep. Cognitive behavioural therapy can teach those with poor sleep experiences to retrain their brain and promote healthy, sleep inducing thought patterns. Relaxation training and biofeedback can calm breathing, heart rate, muscles, and mood. Talk therapy can also help to quiet the mind.
Playing video games, watching TV and scrolling on your phone can have a negative effect. Blue light, which is emitted from cell phones, computers, tv’s and other electronic devices can serve to increase alertness and delay the release of sleep-inducing melatonin. If you have a blue light filter on your phone or electronic device, be sure to have it turned on early in the evening. Having a digital curfew, for example, at least one hour before bedtime can help reduce the impact of electronic devices.
A bedtime ritual tells your mind and body that it’s time to get some sleep. Consider a night routine of a warm bath, a book, or relaxation techniques such as deep breathing.
It’s easier to fall and stay asleep when your body’s tired. Exercise in the late afternoon is most effective. However, working up a sweat just hours before bedtime can have the opposite effect and make you more alert.
Some foods and drinks can affect sleep. Avoid these 4-6 hours before bed:
- Caffeine, including coffee, tea, and soda
- Heavy or spicy foods
- Alcohol (it helps some people fall asleep, but can also make them repeatedly wake up)
Good “sleep hygiene” is the term often used for maintaining a regular sleep routine schedule. It’s helpful to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on the weekends, to establish and maintain a useful sleep routine. Making sure you sleep in a dark, quiet, cool room is also an important aspect of good sleep hygiene.
Don’t dismiss the much-needed zzz’s
Sleep disorders affect how much and how well you sleep. Lack of sleep can take a toll on nearly every part of your life with sleep deprivation linked to car accidents, relationship troubles, poor job performance, job-related injuries, memory problems, mood disorders and physical health.
If you have trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor or mental healthcare professional.
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