We all need to sleep well to help our bodies recover from the day and to allow healing to take place. But a lot of us struggle to get a good night’s sleep. One in three of us suffers from poor sleep, and the consequences can be more serious than feeling grumpy or unfocused. Sleep and mental health are closely related: living with a mental health condition can affect your sleep, and poor sleep can affect your mental health.
Lack of sleep can also make us feel physically unwell. It’s linked to heart disease, diabetes, premature ageing and road accident deaths.
Research suggests that the relationship between sleep and mental health is complex. While sleep has long been known to be a consequence of many psychiatric conditions, more recent views suggest that sleep can also play a causal role in both the development and maintenance of different mental health problems.
In other words, sleep problems can lead to changes in mental health, but mental health conditions can also worsen problems with sleep. Lack of sleep may trigger the onset of certain psychological conditions, although researchers are not completely certain of the underlying reasons for this. Because of this circular relationship between your sleep patterns and your mental state, it is important to talk to your doctor if you are having problems falling or staying asleep.
If you’ve ever struggled to get through the day after a night of tossing and turning, you are well-acquainted with the disruptive effects of sleep deprivation. Mood changes including increased irritability and anger can make it much harder to cope with even the minor stresses of daily life.
Insomnia and other sleep problems can be a symptom of depression, but more recently, research has implicated lack of sleep in actually causing depression.
As with many other psychological conditions, the relationship between sleep and anxiety appears to go both directions. People with anxiety tend to experience more sleep disturbances, but experiencing sleep deprivation can also contribute to feelings of anxiety. This can become a cycle that perpetuates both the sleep and anxiety issues.
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common psychiatric condition, affecting as many as 5.3% of children between the ages of six and 17 years old. ADHD is associated with sleep problems, and research also suggests that sleep disturbances may be a predictor or even a contributor to symptoms of the condition. Studies have found that between 25% and 55% of children who have ADHD also experience sleep disturbances.
Is there a certain sleep cycle we should all adhere to?
“Absolutely, our own one and we shouldn’t deviate from it!”
We humans all adhere to our Circadian rhythms or the 24-hour sleep/wake cycle. Within that 24-hour period we are awake, active, sleep then awake again. However, the actual timing of this differs from person to person because we are governed by our genetics on this one.
It’s called our ‘Chronotype’. There are two main types: Morning Larks or Night Owls. Larks naturally go to bed and get up early and Owls are the opposite. Most people fall into one of these two categories. This harps back to when we were cave-dwelling hunter/gatherers. To ensure we would be successful with our endeavours (and to increase our safety) there were effectively two shifts, morning, and evening.
Simple Sleeping Habits:
- “Don’t force yourself to stay up all night if you’re a Lark and don’t take yourself off to bed at nine o’clock in the evening if you’re an Owl.”
Accept your genetic propensity to sleep and stick to it, you’ll notice a decrease in stress and an increase in vitality.
- “Another habit to acquire is to ditch the tech an hour before bed and make the sleep environment as dark as possible.”
This gives the brain a very clear signal to start producing the sleep hormone melatonin.
In the morning, get as much light into the eyes as possible, this stops melatonin production.
- “Another recommendation is to stay hydrated but avoid sugary drinks.”
This is all simple and obvious, but the best advice usually is.
How does sleep affect us?
“A thing to remember about sleep is that it is a very complex series of 90-minute cycles which are broken down into stages. Each stage performs a different task and one of these is to repair damaged cells and flush out toxins. This can only happen when we allow a cycle to complete and are hydrated enough for efficient flushing. When we sleep well, we feel well. I don’t know about you but when I’ve had a great night’s sleep my stress levels are low, my productivity is high, and I feel like I can cope with life so much easier.”
The recommendations for treating poor sleep or sleep disturbances are generally the same whether or not you have a psychiatric condition. Preliminary approaches usually focus on lifestyle changes you can make that can help you get a better night’s sleep. Avoiding sleep interrupters (such as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol) and practicing good sleep habits are examples of lifestyle changes you can make that can help.
In addition to seeking help from medical professionals, there are also steps that you can take on your own to improve your sleep and well-being. Having good sleep hygiene, or practices that support sleep, are critical to staying rested and avoiding daytime sleepiness.
Some things you can do:
- Limit napping. Too much sleep during the day can have an effect on your ability to fall or stay asleep at night. Naps of 20 to 30 minutes a day can help you feel more alert and rested without interrupting your nightly sleep.
- Establish a nightly routine. Stick to a set of habits that help prepare you for rest each night. Take a bath, read a book, or practice a few minutes of meditation to calm your body. Repeat these routines each night to help set the mood for a solid night’s sleep.
- Avoid caffeine or stimulants too close to bedtime. Consuming coffee, soda, or other caffeinated products in the late afternoon or evening can make it difficult to fall asleep.
- Turn off your devices. Watching television or playing on your phone at bedtime can make it more difficult to relax and settle down for sleep. Try setting limits on when you quit using your devices before bed.
Talk to a mental health professional if you suspect that your sleep problems might be caused by or contributing to a mental health condition. Depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric disorders can interfere with sleep—but addressing your sleep problems may also have a positive impact on your psychological symptoms.
If lifestyle changes do not relieve sleep problems, your doctor may recommend psychotherapy and medications.