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Why Sleep is Important for Your Mental Health

Apr 18, 2022
· 6 mins read

Sleep and mental health are extremely interdependent. When we don't get enough sleep, our emotions can become erratic. As a result, we are more likely to acquire a condition. As a result, conditions like depression and anxiety can make getting a good night's sleep difficult.

Often, sleep disorders such as sleep apnea lead us to depression too. We never feel in control of our body during the day, and before we know it, our actions have become numb motions while we are trying to rest peacefully for one night. For something like sleep apnea, CPAP therapy often brings us out of the flunk we have fallen into.

In the absence of a sleep disorder, there are still ways one could try to increase the quality of their sleep and stop this cycle of despair. Let’s take a look at how sleep and mental health are intertwined.

How Does Sleep Affect our Body and Mind?

Woman sitting up in bed unable to sleep

From our body’s perspective, lack of sleep increases the chance of heart problems, obesity, and diabetes. If you are familiar with the kind of diseases that could arise out of sleep apnea, this information is no surprise to you. Obstructive sleep apnea, characterized by how much you suffer from sleep disruptions because of it, has often been strongly linked with all three of the diseases mentioned above.

Then, sleep not only keeps your body in good form, but it also keeps your mind in good shape. Not to mention that a healthy body helps to prevent various mental health problems.

Your memory, cognitive functions, attentiveness, and capacity to regulate your emotions are all heavily influenced by your relationship with sleep.

In fact, what we see with our eyes can only correspond to what our minds interpret it to be if we get enough sleep. According to research, a person who does not get enough sleep for more than three days may hallucinate and experience delusions. From their point of view, the world may be somewhat slanted and warped.

The average amount of sleep that an adult should obtain is 7 to 9 hours.

Depending on our age and health, this number can vary.

The Link Between Sleep and Mental Health

Lack of sleep is actually acknowledged as one of the primary risk factors for mental health.

In Michigan, about 979 young adults were studied. It was found that those with insomnia had 4 times the chance of developing depression, and that can happen in only 3 years' time.

A study was done on children who used to have problems sleeping. It was concluded that those who did not get enough sleep as a child had a higher chance of some sort of psychosis. They were often diagnosed with borderline personality disorder as young adults.

Research on insomnia concluded that depression often tends to be preceded by insomnia. Anxiety disorders are also fairly common, as well as bipolar disorder. Suicide and insomnia have also been linked indefinitely.

Just as lack of sleep can lead to mental health problems, the opposite is also true. A person might not get enough sleep due to mental health issues that do not let them feel peace, often following them to their sleep and waking them. Bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, everything seems to have lack of sleep as a symptom and a common factor.

In The Lancet Psychiatry, a psychiatrist and professor, Daniel Freeman, and his Oxford colleagues have stated that mental health and sleep have a co-dependent relationship. When these two feed off each other, it could lead to a messy spiral.

How are Sleep and Mental Health Related?

The relationship between sleep and mental health has mainly been attributed to some biological factors.

Circadian Rhythm

info graphic of a circadian clock

Circadian Rhythm or what we call the body’s internal clock. This is the control center of our body we attribute to understanding when it is night and day, time to sleep, eat and work.

Research has found genes in our body, the genes that are specifically referred to as circadian clock genes. These genes have been closely linked to various disorders, including seasonal affective disorder or SAD, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.

If your actual sleeping time does not match the time your circadian genes are telling you to sleep, it can make us more likely to develop these conditions.

REM (Rapid Eye Movement) Sleep

Oddly enough, depression in itself has not been linked to circadian rhythm. Instead, the REM stage of sleep is the culprit.

Once you fall asleep, your brain goes through 3 stages of sleep that are not REM. When you are simply sleeping, your subconscious does not produce any dreams for you, and sudden noises around the room could easily wake you up.

After the 90-minute mark is passed, you might enter the REM stage. This is where people are either greeted with dreams or nightmares.

Throughout the night, your brain experiences all the stages over and over again. Each time, the length of the REM sleep gets longer. However, it has been noted that those with depression might experience REM sleep quicker than most. Therefore, the first time REM occurs while sleeping might also last longer. This means more time for both good and bad dreams to inflict their sleep.

According to research, in our REM stage of sleep, we go through our emotional experiences. It is a stage that helps us process the memories that might have been traumatic or unpleasant all around.

Someone with depression finds the pattern in which unpleasant memories are dealt with in REM sleep to be broken. Instead of distancing yourself from your negative experiences, your REM sleep ends up imbuing them more and more in your mind. And there begins the depressive cycle. Depression does not let you have pleasant REM sleep, and your REM sleep does not let you get out of depression.

This evidence is further solidified by the properties of antidepressants. A lot of these drugs tend to stop you from going to REM sleep. Doing so prevents you from experiencing negative memories in your sleep.

There have been cases where not sleeping has actually gotten a person out of depression. The reason could be the same. As they do not sleep and thus, don’t go to the REM stage, they don’t feel depressed.  Of course, this won’t work for everyone, not to mention it is risky as it is.

How to Snap Out of the Sleep Deprivation Cycle

woman sleeping

There is no proven and tested method for everyone. Depending on the mental health issue you are dealing with, the path to sleep would be different.

In cases of sleep apnea, where the mental health issues are side effects of a sleeping disorder caused by problems in our body, it is easier to handle. For the most part, some exercise, healthy eating habits, going to bed at the right time and sleeping with a CPAP mask ensure that mental disorders don’t touch you.

For cases such as depression or bipolar disorder, it usually means talking to your psychiatrist, taking medicines as and when instructed, continuing to do exercises, and trying to go to sleep at the right time.

Going to sleep a little earlier can fix lots of problems for you. It would be a good idea to refrain from television or phone screen about one to two hours before you go to sleep. Remove the alertness from your mind that usually follows you and messes with your circadian rhythm due to the blue light emitting from the screen.

For lots of mental disorders, just trying to get some sleep isn’t going to guarantee you actually will. However, the desire to do so in your mind in itself is an improvement. Over time, with exercise and keeping your body in better shape, you might get the love for sleep back. Hopefully, as your sleep schedule fixes itself, the disorders will become more manageable.

In fact, if your REM cycle is often disrupted by nightmares, it might be better to have a dreamless sleep than have any dream at all.

Final Thoughts

To understand why you are having problems with sleep, you first need to identify the cause of it. It might be good to have some routine checkups. If you know the cause, it is much easier to deal with, whether it is depression or anxiety.

If you have been in a depressive state for some time and you figured out it was sleep apnea, it might be a relief for you too. You will have a proper plan for how to deal with your depression as well as your sleep disorder. Lastly, CPAP users have certainly reported better quality of sleep and life.

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