Sleep quality and mental health: What the data says

Have you ever had a bad night’s sleep and found that you were moody and irritable all day? Or maybe you had a stressful day and come bedtime, found that you couldn’t fall asleep? These are just two examples that depict how sleep and mental health are interconnected and go hand-in-hand.

If you’re interested in the science of sleep, mental health, how the two can impact each other or simply want some helpful tips for sleep, look no further!

WHY IS SLEEP SO VITAL TO MENTAL WELLBEING?

It’s fairly common to wake up feeling refreshed and energised following a good night’s sleep and feel irritable or grumpy after a long and sleepless night. These are but the first signs of the true impact sleep can have on both mental and physical health.

One of the reasons adequate sleep quantity and good sleep quality are so essential is the critical bodily mechanisms that occur during the sleep state. While many see sleep for its surface, face-value in terms of rest and the relief of mental exhaustion; physically, much more goes on while we sleep. As we sleep, hormones (such as ghrelin, leptin, insulin and cortisol) are released which help to regulate appetite control, stress response, growth, metabolism, and other bodily functions. Furthermore, memory consolidation also occurs during sleep, which enables the formation and storage of new memories. This consolidation is crucial for learning new information.


This hormonal release may seem physical, but they are in fact brain functions that massively impact mental health. On a more mental level, poor or insufficient sleep can increase negative emotional responses to stressors and has been found to decrease positive emotions. There is an overwhelming amount of research to support that the better your sleep quality, the more mentally healthy you will be.

A good night’s sleep can improve one’s mood by reducing anxiety, irritability and mental exhaustion. Like I said, sleep allows for many of our hormones to replenish, which in turn allows for optimal energy, immunity, appetite, and the ability to cope with whatever the day may throw at us!

WHAT CONSTITUTES A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP?

Before I get to the importance of sleep quality, and the ways to achieve it, it’s important to note that sleep needs vary from person to person. You may have heard the classic “7-9 hours” per night as the ballpark for a sufficient amount, and this isn’t wrong (when it comes to adults). If you have a look at the chart below, sleep needs vary tremendously for younger individuals, but do even out for adults. However, sleep needs are individual and are affected by several factors. If you’re waking up throughout the night, like to engage in vigorous exercise, or live a highly active or inactive lifestyle, more or less than 7-9 hours could be beneficial. Making sure your sleep quantity suits your own needs and capabilities will help to improve your sleep quality and overall well being.

HOW TO IMPROVE SLEEP: SLEEP HYGIENE


Since we know that better sleep results in improved mental health, are all of us poor sleepers essentially doomed to suffer from poor mental health consequentially? Thankfully not! There are endless ways in which we can improve our sleep quality.


This is where the concept of sleep hygiene comes into play. Sleep hygiene describes healthy sleep habits and/or behaviours that one can practise in order to improve their ability to fall asleep and remain asleep throughout the night. Good sleep hygiene, in theory, should result in good sleep quality.
To improve your sleep hygiene, you would have a bedroom environment and routine that would promote consistent and uninterrupted sleep. To achieve better sleep hygiene, here are some recommendations:
● Keeping a stable sleep schedule (sleeping and waking at the same time every day)
● Making your bedroom comfortable for you! Whether that means absence of light or
the presence of a dim light, air conditioner, or a heated blanket.
● Shutting off all electronics at least an hour before bed!
● Following a relaxing bedtime routine: perhaps incorporating a skincare routine, reading a book, or indulging in a decaffeinated tea!
● Reducing stress levels in whichever way suits you (yoga and meditation are highly recommended).
Now the great thing about sleep hygiene is that it is totally individual and in fact works best if each sleeper tailors their own practices to their own personal needs and capabilities. If you get a chance to try out any of these recommendations, please comment below and let us know what worked best for you. Happy sleeping!

References:
– https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/how_much_sleep.html

– https://theconversation.com/chemical-messengers-how-hormones-help-us-sleep-44983
– https://www.health.qld.gov.au/news-events/news/7-amazing-things-that-happen-to-your-body-while-you-sleep
– https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-hygiene/how-to-determine-poor-quality-sleep
– https://www.columbiapsychiatry.org/news/how-sleep-deprivation-affects-your-mentalhealth
– https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/sleep-problems/about-sleep-and-mental-health

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