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How Does Sleep Affect your Mental Health?

  • Sep 20, 2022
  • Mental Health

Man sleeping with good mental health

At some point in our lives, we all have trouble sleeping. We might be worried about something such as work or cost of living, or perhaps we’re excited about a forthcoming event. An occasional bad night’s sleep should not be a cause for alarm but if you are struggling to sleep on a regular basis, this could soon start to take its toll. The physical effects of a bad night’s sleep can include drowsiness and a lack of energy and could exacerbate conditions such as heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.

But how does poor sleep affect our mental health? In this article, we will look at how sleep and mental health are linked and explore ways to help you sleep better on a regular basis.

What is the connection between mental health and sleep?

After a good night’s sleep, we might wake up feeling rested and refreshed. When we don’t get the regular seven to nine hours of sleep recommended, this can affect our mental wellbeing and quality of life. Research is ongoing to fully understand the relationship between sleep and mental health, but it’s widely accepted that the two go hand in hand - mental health conditions can affect sleep, and lack of sleep can affect mental health.

How can lack of sleep affect your mental health?

During the various stages of sleep, your brain goes through several different activities. Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep helps your brain to process emotional information. When REM sleep is impeded, it becomes more difficult to use the parts of your brain that help you manage emotions. Each stage of sleep can be important for cognitive activity, such as how we think, learn, and memorise. When these stages are disrupted on a regular basis, this can lead to:

  • Feelings of anxiety and depression. Lack of sleep causes your energy levels to drop significantly and can lead to a loss of interest or pleasure in activities you would normally enjoy.
  • Inability to focus properly or make decisions because of cognitive impairment.
  • Irritability and frustration, leading to arguments with family, colleagues, or friends.
  • Loneliness and isolation. Lack of sleep might not be a simple issue to talk about, so you may find it difficult to discuss with others about how you feel.

How can mental health affect your sleep?

Similarly, an existing mental health problem could affect your sleep in many of ways. For example:

  • Anxiety disorders can cause you to worry excessively or have repetitive thoughts that keep you awake. You may also end up having panic attacks during the night. The ability to deal with feelings of anxiety can become more challenging when you also suffer from chronic sleep disturbances. As a result, poor sleep can worsen the symptoms of anxiety conditions.
  • Depression can lead to you sleeping more, and it can be a struggle to get out of bed in the morning. It can also cause insomnia.
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a condition that affects people during the winter months. It is known to affect sleep cycles, leading to too much sleep, or in many cases, not enough.
  • If you've gone through trauma which causes nightmares, flashbacks, or night terrors, this can disturb your sleep and can make you feel that your bedroom is not a safe environment to sleep in.
  • Conditions such as paranoia, schizophrenia and psychosis can affect your sleep. You may hear voices or see things you find alarming or disturbing.

How can you improve your sleep?

  1. Don’t drink any alcohol before bed and avoid caffeine in the evening.
  2. Try to establish good sleep patterns. Go to bed at the same time each night and set your alarm for the same time each morning (including weekends - a lie in on Sunday morning can affect how you sleep that night).
  3. Make sure your bedroom is the right temperature for you - it should not be too hot or too cold. Block out any excess light.
  4. Ensure you get regular exercise during the day; however, you should refrain from strenuous exercise before bedtime as this can act as a stimulant.
  5. Don’t use electronic devices such as mobiles, laptops, or tablets late at night - the bright light can keep you awake.
  6. Set aside 10-20 minutes before bedtime to practise relaxation techniques such as meditation or breathing exercises. There are a variety of apps available to help with this.
  7. It may help to keep a sleep diary. This is a useful tool for tracking sleep, monitoring sleeping habits, and documenting sleeping problems. You may find it beneficial to write down any worries you have before you go to bed to help offload some concerns that could keep you awake.

Seek help

If problems persist and you are struggling to sleep well on a regular basis, you should consider making an appointment with your GP. They will give you advice and support on how you can get a better quality of sleep. If you keep a sleep diary, you may wish to share this with your doctor so they can spot any sleep disorders you may have.

It’s important to know that if you are struggling to cope, there are a number of ways you can seek help with your mental health. Samaritans are available to talk to 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  Mental Health Innovations also runs a free, 24/7, confidential text messaging support service.

For urgent mental health help, you can find your nearest local NHS mental health helpline here.


Disclaimer: The content of this website is provided for informational purposes only and does not substitute the medical advice from a healthcare professional.