Sleep and Mental Health

Being sleep-deprived every once in a while might be inevitable with the busy lives we lead, but getting enough sleep should be a priority and makes a huge difference to our overall mental health.

Why is sleep important for your mental wellbeing?

Good sleep isn’t just dependent on the number of hours of sleep you get, but also the quality of it. There are two basic types of sleep, both of which are essential for mental and physical health: 

  1. Non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) sleep: improves immune system functioning
  2. Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep: when dreaming occurs, important in learning and memory consolidation, also contributes to emotional health 

Sleep deprivation and its psychological consequences 

Lack of deep sleep can directly affect our mood and functioning. For example, it may cause negative psychological effects such as poor concentration and irritability, leading us to feel more upset, angry, or stressed than normal. 

Long-term sleep problems can also exacerbate mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety- they have been found to precede depression 69% of the time, and anxiety 27% of the time. This is because sleep deprivation increases the likelihood of individuals experiencing intense negative thoughts or feeling emotionally vulnerable. 

Long-term sleep deprivation can also worsen ADHD, mania, and psychosis, as well as increase feelings of guilt, aggressive behaviour, and participation in risky activities- all of which are detrimental to an individual’s mental wellbeing. 

How much sleep is enough sleep?

The recommended amount of sleep for most adults is 7 to 9 hours, while children and teenagers under 18 years of age need between 10 to 13 hours. However, this can sometimes vary depending on genetics and medical conditions. Oversleeping should also be avoided as this can produce feelings of drowsiness the following day. 

Tips for healthy sleep

  • Maintain a sleep schedule. Sleep and wake up at the same time every day. 
  • Listen to soothing music or meditate before bed. Apps like Headspace and Smiling Mind provide relaxing music and guided meditation sessions. 
  • Create a comfortable environment with ideal conditions for sleep- a quiet, cool (18-21 degrees Celsius) and dark bedroom.
  • Avoid or minimise the use of stimulants such as caffeine, alcohol and nicotine after 4pm.
  • Avoid using electronic devices an hour before going to bed. 
  • Avoid napping during the day.
  • Exercise can increase the likelihood of falling asleep quicker at night, if done one hour or more before bed time.

When to seek professional help regarding sleeping patterns?

If you’ve tried all the tips above and still have consistent difficulties in sleeping, you might be experiencing a more serious problem. In such cases, it would be worthwhile to consult a medical professional. 

Some signs of an underlying sleep issue, such as insomnia, include difficulties in falling asleep or staying asleep that persists for at least a month, not feeling well-rested despite obtaining a full night’s sleep, and/or impaired ability to perform certain tasks throughout the day.