The link between how much and how well we sleep and our mental health is something many people don’t consider.
But sleep is a vital part of caring for ourselves and for our minds, and more and more studies suggest that there is a very real connection between lack of sleep and increased vulnerability to mental health struggles.
Statistics confirm this, as reported by the Harvard Medical School. “Chronic sleep problems affect 50% to 80% of patients in a typical psychiatric practice, compared with 10% to 18% of adults in the general U.S. population. Sleep problems are particularly common in patients with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).”
It used to be commonly assumed that the sleep troubles that many individuals experienced while anxious or depressed, were caused by their depression or anxiety. However, some studies now suggest that in fact the sleep difficulties may in fact be a contributing factor to the development of mental health problems.
This may be because the two types of sleep, both REM and “quiet” sleep, perform vital functions for both our bodies and minds. Quiet sleep boosts our immune systems and allows our bodies to slow down and relax in a way that it is difficult if not impossible to achieve while awake.
REM sleep has been shown to enhance memory, intellectual ability, and emotional resilience.
When we take this into account, it makes sense that “Neuroimaging and neurochemistry studies suggest that a good night’s sleep helps foster both mental and emotional resilience, while chronic sleep deprivation sets the stage for negative thinking and emotional vulnerability.” (Also from the Harvard Medical School.)
This information should concern us, especially considering the fact that American’s are chronically sleep deprived. The most recent US government survey to collect data on this issue showed that 1 out of every 3 adult Americans are getting less sleep than they need on a regular basis.
And with the increasing prevalence of handheld screen devices, which may make sleeping more difficult, these numbers are likely to go up.
So, what can you do to protect your sleep and your mental health?
First, assess how much sleep you are getting on a regular basis and whether it is really meeting your needs.
If you discover that you are regularly tired or sleep-deprived, consider what changes in your lifestyle you may need to make to change that.
These changes may be as simple as not keeping your phone next to your bed, or may be more complex, such as re-structuring your schedule or learning relaxation techniques that may help you sleep peacefully.
If lifestyle changes don’t seem like enough, you may want to be assessed for a possible sleeping disorder, or speak with a mental health professional.
Whatever approach you take, realizing how important sleep is to your overall health and well being is a first and vital step!