man enjoying sleep

Everyone has a poor night’s sleep from time to time, but when this is the norm, it can be problematic. Your sleep and mental health are connected in a variety of complex ways and when one is not doing well, the other may follow suit.

How Mental Health Impacts Sleep

Poor mental health can negatively impact sleep in various ways. Not only can feeling stressed or anxious about something cause a bad night’s sleep but sleep problems are thought to be symptoms of various mental health disorders.

People with mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and schizophrenia traditionally have a harder time falling asleep and also spend less time asleep during normal bedtime hours.1 One reason for this connection may be based on how mental health disorders impact the brain and its functioning.

Changes in brain activity and hormone levels associated with emotional dysregulation have been linked to sleep deprivation. Similarly, many mental health disorders cause abnormal changes in the brain involving the two hormones dopamine and serotonin that also play an important role in the circadian function and the neurobiology of sleep.1 This information suggests that the neurological changes to the brain from mental health disorders could consequently negatively impact sleep.

Along with sleep quality, mental health disorders and dreams may also be connected. People with mental health disorders tend to report more nightmares or negative dreams. Similarly, those with “peace of mind” in their waking state were much more likely to have positive dreams.2

The Effects of Sleep on Mental Health

Although it is becoming clearer that sleep and mental health are connected, people originally thought that sleep problems were only symptoms of various mental health disorders. In reality, a good night’s sleep is necessary for both your physical and mental health. While researchers are still working on fully understanding how sleep affects the brain, sleep is important for mental health.

Not only does lack of sleep lead to problems like impaired memory and poor cardiovascular health, but also sleep deprivation and mental health are connected. Lack of sleep increases self-reported anxiety and depression as well as general distress.3,4

Along with decreasing a person’s overall emotional well-being, sleep problems may also increase the risk of someone developing a mental health disorder or even make a person’s existing condition worse. People with insomnia are 5 times more likely to develop depression and 20 times more likely to develop a panic disorder than those getting an adequate amount of sleep.5

Connected to the negative effects of poor sleep on mental health, sleep intervention may also be able to improve a person’s mental health. A study on insomnia and mental health in young adults found that improvements in sleep lead to a reduction in paranoia, hallucinations, anxiety, and depression.6 This research suggests that sleep intervention could be an important part of mental health treatment.

Tips to Improve Sleep (and Mental Health)

Because sleep and mental health are connected in various different ways, getting a good night’s rest isn’t always easy, but it is important for both your physical and mental health. Especially if you have a mental health condition, improving your sleep quality may also help reduce your symptoms.

To begin, try these sleep tips:

  • Avoid caffeine later in the day or at night
  • Do not eat big meals before going to bed
  • Exercise regularly but not right before bed
  • Meditate or practice mindfulness to release stress
  • Develop a relaxing pre-bedtime routine (journaling, breathing exercises, light stretching, etc.)
  • Avoid taking naps during the day
  • Develop and stick to a regular sleep schedule
  • Keep your room dark and cool
  • Do not use electronics right before bed
  • Get cognitive behavioral therapy

While these tips for better sleep may help you feel more well-rested, they may not improve your mental health overnight or be enough to decrease symptoms significantly from a mental health condition.

If you are still struggling, it is okay to ask for help. At Vertava Health, we offer different treatment programs to help you better manage your mental health and improve your overall well-being. Contact us today to speak with a member of our care team confidentially and to get started.