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Sleep and Mental Health | Better Sleep Helps Us Cope

Under: ADD & ADHD, General Health, Sleep & Insomnia

Better sleep helps us cope with negative emotions and stress

It’s no secret that sleep plays an essential role in physical health. Sleep is involved in many vital functions, like cell reparation and memory formation and consolidation. On the other hand, poor sleep is linked with worse health outcomes, including higher body weight, greater risk of stroke and heart disease, and more.

But it is not just our physical health that can deteriorate when we don’t sleep enough. Research shows that sleep deprivation and insomnia can also negatively affect a person’s mental health and how they cope with daily stressors.

How sleep affects mental health

Anybody who has spent a night tossing and turning knows how miserable and irritable it can leave you feeling the day after. Drowsiness, decreased concentration, mood swings, and short-term memory problems are some of the immediate effects of lack of sleep. In the long run, sleep deprivation can also contribute to unfavorable changes in mental health.

It was once believed that sleep issues were a symptom of mental health or emotional disorders. But recent research has begun to challenge these views, showing that there seems to be a bidirectional relationship between sleep and mental health, where lack of sleep can be both a symptom of or a contributing factor to mental health problems.

Although researchers are still trying to piece together how this relationship works, we know that different sleep stages play important roles in distinct neurological functions. In the case of mental health, sleep scientists have uncovered that rapid eye movement (REM) sleep – the phase when we usually dream – encourages learning and memory and facilitates the processing of emotional information. In fact, it may be possible that not getting enough sleep prevents the brain from evaluating and consolidating positive memories and emotions.

Anxiety and depression may occur from sleep deprivation

Depression and anxiety are typically associated with sleep problems. Studies suggest that the relationship between these conditions and sleep problems seems to go both directions. One evaluation of 21 long-term studies found that non-depressed individuals with insomnia have a two-fold risk of developing depression, compared to those who slept well during the night.

Sleep disturbances are also common among children and teens struggling with ADHD. Research suggests that reduced sleep may be a predictor or perhaps even a contributing factor of this condition, mainly because people with ADHD tend to experience a number of sleep-related challenges, including night terrors, insomnia, nightmares, and snoring or breathing difficulties.

Further, a recent study conducted by investigators at the University of British Columbia, in Canada, found that shorter sleep duration can even influence how we cope in our day to day lives. Using self-reported data from nearly 2,000 participants, the researchers analyzed how individuals responded to positive and negative events in the day following a bad night of sleep. The results suggested that people with shorter sleep duration were more likely to react to a negative event with less positive emotions than those who slept better.

Improving sleep and mental health

If you’ve been struggling with mental health and sleep problems, your doctor can help you find the most appropriate strategy for you. Treatments for sleep disturbances and mental health issues can range from cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to reshape your relationship with sleep, to prescription medications and other types of personalized care.

Poor sleep hygiene is one of the leading causes of sleeping difficulties. Some habits that can help improve your sleeping routine:

  • Minimizing daytime naps
  • Limiting screen time before bed
  • Avoiding large or heavy meals before bed
  • Making sure you have a consistent sleep routine
  • Exercising during the day
  • Turning your bedroom into an optimal sleeping environment (dark, no loud noises, pleasant temperature)
  • Taking a natural sleeping supplement