Poor sleep is messing with your mental health

March 10, 2016 | by Erin Terada, Psy.D.
Categories: Healthy Driven Minds

Are you getting enough sleep? For many of us, the answer is no. You may think you can get by on little sleep, but it will take its toll. Quality sleep is essential to proper immune function, healing and cognition. It also protects our mental health.

Think about it. If one sleepless night can make you feel irritable and moody, what do you think a pattern of poor sleep is doing to you?

Sleep problems often go hand-in-hand with mental illness. The National Alliance on Mental Illness states more than one-half of insomnia cases are related to depression, anxiety or psychological stress. It’s common for mental illness to cause problems with sleep – but the reverse may be true as well.

While good sleep is needed to cope with mental illness and avoid worsening symptoms, quality sleep may also safeguard our mental health. Studies suggest chronic, insufficient sleep may increase the risk for developing some mental illnesses.

Ever seen a tired child who is also cranky and weepy? When we aren’t fortified by a good night’s sleep, it’s more difficult to regulate our emotions. Sleep deprivation makes you more likely to have a short temper and mood swings.

Sleep deficiency has been linked to depression, anxiety and mental distress. Other risks of chronic poor sleep include hallucinations, impulsive behavior, paranoia and suicidal thoughts.

One study revealed inadequate sleep leads to people feeling more stressed, sad, angry and mentally exhausted, with declining levels of optimism and sociability. In the study, symptoms improved with a return to better sleep.

How can you sleep better for better mental health?

  • Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day.
  • Use your bed for sleep and intimacy only – go to another room to read, watch TV, eat and work.
  • Create a comfortable sleep environment. Keep your bedroom cool, dark and quiet. Use blackout curtains and a white noise machine or fan.
  • If you can’t fall asleep or go back to sleep within 20 minutes, get up and do something boring until you feel drowsy.
  • Avoid stimulating activities, like exercise, before bed. Try to increase your physical activity earlier in the day.
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine, and heavy, spicy or sugary foods late in the day.
  • Create a regular sleep routine – take a warm bath, have a cup of caffeine-free tea, read or listen to relaxing music before bed.
  • Have a light snack before bed (yogurt, banana, milk)
  • Don’t take naps, especially after 3 p.m. and for no more than 30 minutes.
  • Try relaxation techniques before bedtime (meditation, deep breathing, guided imagery, mindfulness)

Other methods to improve sleep include sleep restriction (to decrease the amount of time you spend in bed awake), light therapy (to establish a regular sleep-wake cycle), or cognitive behavioral therapy (to control negative thoughts or worries that keep you awake). If non-drug interventions aren’t enough, ask your doctor about medications to promote sleep, or herbal remedies like melatonin.

Make it a goal to get a good night’s sleep not just tonight, but every night. Your mental health depends on it.

What helps you sleep better? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Learn more about sleep disorders and sleep studies offered at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Get support from Linden Oaks Behavioral Health.

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