a surprising, yet powerful correlation between sleep and mental health

In today’s modern, fast-paced world, a good night’s sleep can be elusive. We often forget, or may be unaware, of the physical and mental health benefits that a consistent, good night sleep can provide. We are bombarded with modern-day distractions, such as our smartphones, TVs, and light pollution, which can disrupt our bodies’ circadian rhythm.

The circadian rhythm is our natural sleep-wake cycle that coincides with the rotation of the Earth, with the sun setting and the sun rising each day. This is why exposure to artificial light, especially before going to bed, can make it difficult to fall asleep and to stay asleep throughout the night.

Sufficient sleep duration is another important and often overlooked factor. In our society, many people pride themselves on their ability to function with minimal sleep, although this has been proven to be detrimental to our physical and mental health over time. Connections have also been made between lack of sleep and the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s later in life. Fortunately, recent studies have provided useful information on how to incorporate healthy sleeping habits into our daily lives, also referred to as good “sleep hygiene.” This can help us to avoid the consequences of an unhealthy sleep routine: depression, anxiety, confusion, fatigue, as well as obesity, heart attack, and stroke.

Consequences of Poor Sleeping Habits

Most people are generally aware that a poor night sleep may negatively affect their ability to function the next day, whether it be completing tasks at work or performing well on an exam. However, a lot of people, especially young adults, may be unaware of the long-term mental health effects of poor sleeping habits. As explained in the article, “Sleep Deprivation Can Affect Your Mental Health,” published by Harvard Health,

“... neuroimaging and neurochemistry studies suggest that a good night’s sleep helps foster both mental and emotional resilience, while chronic sleep deprivation can set the stage for negative thinking and emotional vulnerability.”

Patterns of negative thinking can quite easily lead to feelings of depression and anxiety, which in turn can have increasingly negative effects on sleeping patterns, creating a snowball effect. Studies have shown that sleeping problems often precede the development of major depression, and that a patient suffering from insomnia is less likely to be responsive to treatment for depression and other mental health disorders. In fact, Harvard Health has also asserted that,

“Depressed patients who experience insomnia or other sleep disturbances are more likely to think about suicide and die by suicide than depressed patients who are able to sleep normally.”

In adolescents, quality of sleep plays a vital role in growth and development, making it imperative for children and teens to get sufficient amounts of sleep each night. By fostering healthy sleeping habits early on in life, it can help to reduce the risk for mental health and mood disorders, as well as an array of other physical ailments. Another important factor to take into consideration, is the possible correlation between sleep and mental health disorders, where insomnia presents itself as a symptom or possible precursor. In the article, “Sleep Patterns and Mental Health Correlates in US Adolescents,” the authors assert that,

“... interventions to optimize sleep patterns may also benefit adolescent mental health, either by preventing the onset of mental disorder or by serving as a marker by which hidden or prodromal mental health problems may be identified by caretakers.”

Regarding the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s in correlation with poor sleeping habits, studies have shown that getting less than six hours of sleep per night can increase a person’s risk for developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. As explained in the article, “Sleep and Alzheimer’s Disease: More Evidence on Their Relationship” by Nick McKeehan,

“Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by the presence of amyloid plaques and tau tangles in the brain. Previous studies suggested that poor sleep quality was associated with the presence of amyloid plaques in cognitively healthy individuals, and that even one night of sleep deprivation can increase the levels of amyloid in the cerebral spinal fluid (CSF), the fluid that bathes the brain. Two recent studies in Science Transnational Medicine and Science also suggest that poor sleep may also be associated with increased brain levels of tau.”

Establishing Healthy Sleeping Habits

While understanding the health benefits of sleep may seem simple, putting an effective plan into action to cultivate healthy sleeping habits can be rather difficult. Exposure to light from electronic devices, distractions from social media accounts, everyday stress, and other factors can all play a role in reducing our quality of sleep. Humans are habitual creatures by nature, and we can use that to our advantage by establishing and maintaining a relaxing bedtime routine.

Sometimes even after incorporating all these changes and routines into our daily lives, we can still experience difficulty sleeping. If this is the case, it may be necessary to consult with a medical professional. It is important to address sleeping problems early on, as studies have shown the connection between sleep deprivation and the development of depression and other mental health disorders.

Tips for Getting a Better Night's Sleep

Breathe deeply and meditate. Let negative thoughts pass through your mind. Staying focused takes practice and it is important to remember that there is no wrong way to meditate.

Have a consistent routine. Since we are creatures of habit, use this innately human trait to your advantage. Adjust lighting and turn off screens.

Invest in blackout curtains to block out early morning light. Purchase higher quality bedding for better comfort and temperature control. Add more physical activity to your day. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, and vaping products before bedtime.

Written by Laura LeFrenier

This article has been republished from Renewed Awareness Magazine.

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