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The link between sleep and mental health

Have you ever noticed how a bad night’s sleep can make everything feel harder the next day? That’s because sleep and mental health are deeply connected. At Integrated Health Specialists, we see firsthand how sleep quality impacts our clients’ mental well-being and overall health. In this blog, we’ll explore the science behind this connection, examine some of the consequences of sleep deprivation on mental health, and uncover what you can do to improve your sleep.


The Science Behind Sleep and Mental Health

Most of us feel tired, irritable, and have trouble focusing if we’ve had a poor night’s sleep. It can be hard to get out of bed and even harder to be productive for the day. That’s because sleep is crucial for brain function and overall mental health. During sleep, our brains process emotions, consolidate memories, and repair neural connections. When we’re sleep-deprived, these processes are disrupted, making it harder to think clearly and manage our emotions.

Sleep is vital for emotional regulation, helping us handle stress and maintain a balanced mood. For an adult it is recommended that we need at least 7 hours sleep a night. Without enough sleep, stress levels can skyrocket, and mood swings become more frequent and severe. If you struggle with anxiety or depression (or both!), these effects have an even more profound impact.

Interestingly, research shows a strong two-way relationship between sleep and mental health disorders. For example, a 2008 study found that roughly 75% of people with depression also experience insomnia. On the other hand, anxiety and depression can make it hard to sleep (we call it a state of hyperarousal) or stay asleep, leading to chronic sleep deprivation that exacerbates the symptoms of anxiety.

But it’s a bit of a chicken and egg equation – is it the depression and anxiety that lead to insomnia, or does insomnia increase the risk of these disorders? The answer is: It’s a bit of both. Poor sleep can contribute to conditions like depression and anxiety, and these disorders can, in turn, lead to sleep problems – creating a vicious cycle that’s really hard to break.

Other Consequences of Sleep Deprivation

If one night of bad sleep makes you feel out of sorts the next day, imagine what happens when your sleep deprivation becomes chronic! Chronic sleep deprivation can have profound effects on your mind and body, affecting everything from your mood to cognitive function, and more. Here are some of the key mental health consequences to be aware of:

·        Increased irritability: Lack of sleep leads to shorter tempers and heightened emotional responses because you’re unable to regulate your emotions normally. This makes it harder to manage stress, and much more difficult to manage depression and anxiety symptoms. 

·        Difficulty concentrating: Sleep deprivation impairs attention, alertness, and problem-solving skills, making daily tasks more challenging, and more challenging tasks almost impossible.

·        Cognitive impairment: Over time, chronic sleep loss can affect memory, decision-making, and overall cognitive function. This compounds over time, making you feel overwhelmed, like you’re never really on top of things, and can dramatically increase stress.

·        Higher risk of mental health disorders: Persistent sleep deprivation is linked to an increased risk of developing mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, as we noted earlier. In turn, lack of proper sleep can heighten the symptoms of these conditions and others.

·        Increased risk of dementia: Research shows that those who suffer from insomnia are much more likely to develop dementia. Likewise, good sleep is one of the best preventative measures for safeguarding against dementia.

But sleep deprivation doesn’t just impact your mind, it also has serious consequences for your physical health. Poor sleep is associated with:

·        Increased risk of hypertension: High blood pressure can be a consequence of lack of sleep, which in turn impacts your mental and overall well-being.

·        Diabetes risk: Disrupted sleep patterns can affect insulin sensitivity, leading to an increased risk of diabetes.

·        Weakened immune system: A lack of quality sleep compromises your immune system, making you more susceptible to illnesses.

·        Compromised health and healing: Sleep deprivation is strongly linked to poorer health outcomes when recovering from illness and injury, making it harder to get back to your usual, fit self, if you’re not sleeping well.

After reading about some of the consequences that poor sleep can have on your mind and body, it should be clear that taking your sleep seriously is crucial for your mental and physical health, both now and in the long run.

How to Ensure Better Sleep and Mental Health

If you’ve been noticing heightened signs of depression or anxiety lately and aren’t sure why, your sleep could have a lot to do with it. The first thing to do is take a look at your sleep hygiene, and ensure you are:

·        Setting consistent sleep and waking times

·        Not drinking too much caffeine (no coffee after midday is a good start)

·        Turning devices like mobile phones and laptops off at least one hour before bed so there will be no temptations to look at them

·        Ensuring your bedroom is cool and well-ventilated, and completely dark which is needed to produce our main sleep hormone – melatonin

·        Getting enough exercise during the day, but not less than two hours before bed

·        Commence a good bed-time routine which includes reducing lights in your house/room, and includes slowing the mind down with activities like reading or colouring in, diffusing lavender oil, and drinking a camomile tea. This sets the brain up ready to transition into sleep when it’s time.

But the very general advice of ‘get more sleep’ is pretty unhelpful for most people. Wouldn’t we all be sleeping like logs if it was that easy? Here at Integrated Health Specialists, we understand that your sleep and mental health are personal to you, and there are many factors at play.

Our holistic approach means we look at the whole you. That means taking into account your lifestyle, diet and nutrition, exercise habits, sleep hygiene, and how all of these things impact your mind and body.

At Integrated Health Specialists, we offer more than just counselling and psychology services. We provide a comprehensive, personalised plan that addresses all aspects of your well-being. Whether it’s through tailored nutritional advice, personalised exercise plans, or targeted sleep strategies, we’re here to support you every step of the way. Contact us today to start your journey towards better sleep and mental health.

Michelle van Namen
Author: Michelle van Namen