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Published: Sep 19th, 2019

Mental Health and Sleep. What’s the Connection?

Connection Between Mental Health and Sleep

After a good night’s sleep, you can wake up rested and ready to take on the day. Sleep poorly, however, and you might spend the next day foggy and irritable. Why does sleep have such a big impact on your mental state, and what are the long-term consequences of poor sleep? Read on to find out.

Better Sleep is Near

Chances are you’re reading this article because you have already experienced at least an occasional sleepless night. If want to avoid the mental health problems associated with insomnia, you need to make quality sleep a priority. These are five changes you can make for better sleep:

  • Keep your bedroom dark, quiet, and cool. Eliminate any distractions or discomforts that keep you from sleeping.
  • Don’t use tech tools in the bedroom, and avoid using electronics 1-2 hours before bedtime. The artificial blue light emitted by smartphones, computers, TVs, and other electronics disrupts natural circadian rhythms.
  • Replace your mattress if it’s no longer comfortable. Although new mattresses can be expensive, it’s worth the investment in your health, particularly if you find yourself waking up in pain or still feeling groggy. The available options are endless, and it can get complicated quickly if you’re properly considering your body type and sleep type to make the best choice. Fortunately, there are certain mattresses, like Purple, that make it a little easier because they adequately accommodate all sleep types (back, stomach, side and combo). However, if you are heavier and want to go with Purple, a coil Purple mattress may be the best choice.
  • Stay active. CNN explains working out improves both moods and sleep in people suffering from insomnia, making it one of the best things you can do for your mental health. Aim to get at least 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity exercise per week, and don’t worry about avoiding exercise before bed unless it disturbs your sleep.
  • Spend time outdoors. Natural sunlight helps your body regulate its circadian rhythm so it’s easier to follow a consistent sleep-wake schedule. If you work indoors, try to get 30 minutes of sunshine each morning.
  • Moderate your alcohol use. While caffeine gets a bad rap for its stimulating effects, it’s alcohol that poses the bigger threat to sleep. While most people have no trouble falling asleep after drinking, alcohol disrupts REM sleep so your slumber isn’t as restful. Avoid imbibing more than one drink in the four hours before bedtime.

How Sleep Loss Affects Your Mental Health

You might be thinking it’s no big deal to lose sleep here and there. Yet anyone who’s suffered through a sleepless night knows that insomnia can cause irritability and mood swings. Psychology Today notes a night of insomnia can also challenge your self-control. With your willpower depleted, you’re more likely to make decisions you’ll regret later, like eating that second slice of cake, or getting into an argument with your boss. Unfortunately, you’re also more likely to dwell on those regrets, ongoing moodiness and negative thought patterns.

These problems are usually manageable on an occasional basis, but when people fall into a pattern of poor sleep, emotional dysregulation and negative thinking become a part of daily life. Over time, this can lead to psychological problems like depression and anxiety. If you struggle with insomnia routinely, for the sake of your well-being, getting things under control is a must.

Why Is Sleep so Important for Mental Health?

The hours you spend sleeping are hardly wasted time. While your body is at rest, your brain is busy cleaning itself and building neural pathways. Without this crucial maintenance time, your brain isn’t able to perform at peak efficiency.

The parts of the brain most affected by poor sleep are the prefrontal cortex and amygdala. These two areas of the brain are responsible for regulating emotions, but sleep loss impairs their functioning, leaving you more prone to emotional outbursts, impulsive behavior, and negative thinking.

When your schedule is jam-packed with responsibilities, a solid 7-9 hours of sleep can seem like the last thing you need. Put off sleep for too long, however, and it’s not just your to-do list that will suffer. Make quality sleep a priority so your brain has the fuel it needs to stay happy and healthy. Julie Morris is a life and career coach who strives to help others live the best lives that they can. She spent years in an unfulfilling career in finance before deciding to help people in other ways. She’s living this passion by the use of her site: juliemorris.org