How is sleep related to our mental health?

In previous blogs, we have touched on the importance that sleep has on our mental and physical wellbeing, but not in a lot of detail. And it is true, sleep is absolutely vital as it serves several purposes.

Firstly, it filters through the information our brains have collated and disposes of the unnecessary ‘junk’. This is so we do not become overwhelmed with useless information. It also allows us to regenerate and conserve energy, ready for the following day. Furthermore, from a physical point of view, cellular restoration occurs when we sleep including tissue growth and muscle repair.

Sleep plays such a significant part in our lives- the time we spend asleep in our lifetime equates to approximately 36 years! It contributes to vital brain functions such as memory, problem solving and our ability to focus. It therefore comes as no surprise that sleep (or a lack of) has such a big impact on our mental health – but how do the two relate?

How does sleep relate to mental health?

A risk factor for mental health

Not getting enough hours can lead to varying mental health issues, which is why they correlate so highly with sleep disorders like insomnia. Alongside physical consequences (such as a compromised immune system) not getting enough hours has been linked to bouts of low mood and irritability. This can then develop into a depressive disorder if left too long. It is also linked to elevated anxiety levels, as a lack of sleep can lead to feeling jittery and panicked as well as disrupt clear decision-making. On a more severe level, it can also contribute to symptoms associated with bipolar disorder and even psychosis.

A symptom of mental health

Many individuals have described their mental health issues and disorders as exacerbating certain sleep problems. These issues could manifest as the following:

  • Issues falling asleep. On average, it takes a person around fifteen minutes to fall asleep. However, those with mental health concerns may take much longer, especially when struggling with anxiety, as worries may keep them awake.
  • Waking up a lot in the night. This is especially difficult if the person struggles to fall asleep each time they wake up.
  • Sleeping in and struggling to get out of bed. This is strongly associated with being a young person, which of course is normal as adolescents require more sleep. However, it is also linked to anxiety and depression, as having low energy levels when feeling low can lead to sleeping in.
  • Bad dreams and nightmares. This is a very common symptom for those who have gone through a traumatic event. Sufferers of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) may particularly worry about falling asleep, due to fear of night terrors. These nightmares can be flashbacks of what has happened, or anxiety-fuelled about something that could happen in the future. Many describe waking up distressed and disorientated.

Improving your sleep

Useful tips

  • Put that phone down!¬†Something we are all guilty of is looking at our phone before bed. The sooner you switch your phone off and place it somewhere out of reach, the easier it will become to fall asleep.
  • Avoid napping. Save that tiredness for bedtime! Not being tired enough is one of the sole reasons a person struggles to fall asleep at night.
  • Sleep games/tricks. A common one is counting down from 100 in 7s. This task is mundane enough to help you drift off. Alternatively, if you can not get to sleep in 20 minutes, get up and do a dull task (e.g. sit in a dark room and read an instruction manual). Do this for 20 minutes get back into bed, and either you will fall asleep, or repeat the process until you do. Avoid going on your phone or watching TV as bright screens keep you awake.
  • Keep it consistent. Try to utilise a regular sleeping pattern and routine, as it allows your body to establish a strong schedule, making it easier to fall asleep and wake up.
  • Bed is for sleep. A very important tip is to only use your bed for sleep. This allows your body and mind to build an association between the two. This allows the action of getting into bed sends a message to your body and mind that it’s time for sleep.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol. Caffeine of course can keep you awake, so avoid consuming a few hours before bed. Alcohol also massively disrupts sleep. Although it can relax you and can make you feel sleepy, the sleep you have is not as recuperating.
  • The right environment. Sometimes it can be something as simple as having a bright room, or your environment being too noisy. It is important that the room you sleep in is comfortable, dark, and lacking disruption.

How can Brighter Life Therapy help?

Sometimes, these techniques are not quite enough, and professional interventions are needed instead. This is particularly the case if sleep issues have developed following mental health problems. For example, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can be used to tackle sleep issues.

Brighter Life Therapy provides fast access to CBT and counselling treatment, which you can read about here. If you are interested, please do not hesitate to contact us on 0118 40 50 108, or by emailing info@brighterlifetherapy.co.uk.

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