If you’ve ever spent a night tossing and turning, you already know how you’ll feel the next day — tired, cranky, and unproductive. This shows how much a lack of sleep, even if it’s just one night, can disrupt our daily wellbeing.
Poor sleep was traditionally seen as a consequence of poor mental health. However, recent findings describe a more cyclical relationship between sleep and mental distress. Many, if not all, mental health problems are closely associated with poor sleep. What’s more worrying is that 62% of adults globally report they don’t get enough quality sleep (1).
The Effects of Poor Sleep on Your Mental Health
Sleep research has highlighted that sleep is associated with a host of functions including memory and emotional regulation (2). Therefore, a lack of sleep can adversely impact these functions and may even trigger the onset of certain psychological conditions. And because of their circular relationship, the increased mental distress can further impair our sleep quality.
1) Depression, mania, and other mental disorders
If you've been diagnosed with depression, you may be having trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep. In 2014, the CDC even reported that the risk of depression increased due to sleep deprivation (3).
Mania is often heightened by sleeplessness in those with bipolar disorder. Studies of people with insufficient sleep found that their levels of anger, sadness, stress and mental fatigue went up significantly (4). Hallucinations, impulsive behavior, and suicidal thoughts may also be prompted by lack of sleep.
2) Increased stress
Sleep and stress have a bidirectional relationship across the life span with stressors impacting on sleep quality and vice versa (5). With that said, poor sleep makes it much more difficult to cope with even relatively minor hassles.
There’s a reason it’s said that a person in a foul mood “woke up on the wrong side of the bed.” Without a good night’s sleep, daily hassles quickly turn into major sources of frustration.
Sleep deprivation itself may even become a source of stress. For instance, you know that you need a good night's sleep. However, you also find yourself worrying that you won't be able to fall or stay asleep each night.
3) Impaired productivity
Lack of sleep is significantly associated with a loss of productivity. That’s because poor sleep leads to impairments in long and short term memory, concentration, and the ability to consolidate information. Not only that, poor sleep also leads to poorer judgment, lower creativity and unstable emotions.
A person who is sleep deprived is also shown to have hand-eye coordination similar to that of a person with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.1% (6). This significantly increases workplace hazards, which has been incriminated in many driving and machinery-related accidents. In other words, sleep deprivation is fatal.
How to Sleep Better for Your Mental Health
As we’ve learned, the impact of poor sleep on our mental health touches many aspects of our lives including our relationships, work, and safety. Hence, if interventions to improve sleep can prevent unfavorable outcomes, they’re nothing but a worthwhile investment and pursuit.
1) Build a regular bedtime routine
A bedtime routine is a set of actions you perform in the same order, every night, in the 30 to 60 minutes before you go to bed. What you decide to do is up to you, but recommended activities include taking a warm bath, journaling, reading, or meditating.
These activities work because they offload a day’s worth of stress, letting go of those worrisome thoughts that keep you up at night.
2) Leave your devices alone
Love to wind down with your favorite Netflix movies, and your nightly Tik Tok scroll? We agree, they’re an entertaining pursuit. But our digital devices emit strong blue light which suppresses melatonin production, which prompts our brain to stay awake.
As much as you can, say goodnight to your devices at the beginning of your bedtime routine. You may leave them outside your bedroom where it’s hard to reach, and find another hobby to enjoy to substitute the habit.
3) Optimize your sleep environment
A comfortable sleeping environment should be cool, quiet, and dark. Set the temperature somewhere between 16 to 20 degrees Celsius. Dim the lights, pull the curtains, and use a sleep mask. For a little extra something, you may even diffuse your favorite scent with an aromatherapy diffuser.
4) Avoid substances and stimulants
A study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that even 400mg of caffeine taken three or even six hours prior to bedtime significantly disrupts sleep (7). So, it’s recommended to avoid coffee, tea, soda, and even chocolate at least six hours before bedtime.
Alcohol and tobacco has also been studied to disrupt normal sleep patterns, so it helps to avoid consuming them at least four hours before bedtime too (8).
5) Seek professional support
Are your sleep problems persistent and significantly disrupting your life? If so, we recommend consulting a healthcare professional to rule out possible underlying medical conditions. Depending on your condition, experts may recommend various approaches such as a drug regimen, psychotherapy and healthy lifestyle changes.
Good quality sleep is truly the impetus for a happier and healthier life. Therefore, it’s essential that we practice good sleep hygiene and be proactive with seeking professional support when necessary. Finding the right slumber routine and support may require some trial and error. But the science promises you’ll be rewarded in every area of your life as you hit those elusive Z’s.
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