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Your Sleep & Your Mental Health: What’s the Connection?

May 24, 2023

Sleep does the body good. And it turns out, it also does your mental health good.

Getting enough quality sleep plays a big role in maintaining optimal health. That’s true of both your physical and mental health. 

But in today’s world, it’s relatively uncommon to get enough sleep. Many people are burning the midnight oil, so to speak. They stay awake late into the night and wake up early the next morning, getting far fewer hours of sleep than is recommended.

And even those who do tuck themselves into bed earlier may not be getting enough quality sleep. Our sleep can be disturbed by any number of factors, including the stress and strain of the day, the time spent looking at electronic devices, and even the temperature of your bedroom.

So, how can you get the sleep you need to feel at your best, mentally and physically? Read on as we take a deep dive into the topic.

Why Sleep Is Important for Good Mental Health
It makes sense. Think about the last time you had a terrible night’s sleep. When you woke up in the morning, it may have been on the wrong side of the bed. And it’s likely that at least some of your day was affected, if not all of it.

But why is that? It has to do with brain activity.

As you sleep, your brain goes through multiple phases, known as sleep stages. During the NREM (non-rapid eye movement) stages of sleep, your brain activity slows except for quick bursts of energy. During REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, your brain becomes much more active.

Each phase is important for your mental health. Getting enough REM sleep, for example, helps your brain process emotions and the information that provokes those emotions. 

As you sleep, your brain also processes your memories and thoughts. When you don’t get enough sleep, it can cause a disruption in that process that promotes negativity and can diminish your mental health over time.

Not getting enough sleep is tied to your mental health in many different ways, causing everything from brain fog to mood changes and emotional outbursts.

It’s also important to note that there’s a connection between certain mental health issues and an increased risk of having a sleep disorder. For example, it’s known that those who have depression and anxiety are more likely to experience insomnia, making it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep.

How Much Sleep You Need
Your body and mind are unique, so your sleep needs will also be unique. There are some general guidelines, though, when it comes to sleep.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that most adults get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. Adults age 65 and older may need only seven or eight hours to feel at their best.

Because kids are growing and developing, they need much more sleep than adults. Sleep needs range from 14 to 17 hours for a newborn to eight to 10 hours for a teen.

Find your happy spot, sleep-wise, by allowing yourself to sleep and awaken without setting an alarm or being woken up. Doing this for several different days at different times of year can reveal how much sleep your body and mind need to function effectively.

If it’s more sleep than you’re getting on a regular basis (and it probably is), make it a priority to get more sleep. Examine your habits. Is your inability to get enough sleep because you aren’t going to bed early enough, or is it because of some other factor, like a sleep disruption that’s diminishing the quality of your sleep?

If it’s simply a matter of staying awake too late, consider how you feel when you don’t get the sleep you need. Your mental health will benefit when you prioritize getting more sleep by going to bed at a reasonable hour most days.

If you aren’t getting enough quality sleep, consider your sleep hygiene. That’s the set of habits surrounding your sleep. Try these habits to set yourself up for sleep success:

  • Make the bedroom cool and dark. A temperature between 65 and 68 degrees is considered optimal for sleep, so set your thermostat accordingly. Keep light out of the bedroom at night by using thick curtains or keeping the blinds shut entirely. An eye mask may also be helpful.
  • Create a bedtime routine. Routines aren’t just for little kids! In fact, having a set routine at night can help you wind down to sleep. The routine doesn’t have to be complicated; it can be as simple as brushing your teeth and washing your face, putting on pajamas, turning out the lights, and going to bed. Performing the same activities each night helps cue your body that it’s time for bed.
  • Stick to a bedtime and wake time. While it may be tempting to stay up later on the weekends and sleep in, your mental health will thank you if you don’t. Sticking to a set schedule helps your body become accustomed to it, allowing for better sleep and an easier transition into the day.
  • Turn off electronic devices early. The blue light emitted by digital devices, like your phone, tablet, computer, or TV, can be disruptive to your sleep. The light suppresses melatonin in the body, which is the hormone that signals to your body that it’s time for sleep. Keep devices out of the bedroom if possible, but at the minimum, put them aside an hour or more before bedtime. 

Looking for a little extra help with maintaining your mental health? Pathways Behavioral Health Services provides comprehensive services to help you handle the challenges life throws your way.