Getting a good night’s sleep is a critical part of being healthy, both physically and mentally. Most of us have experienced the consequences of slogging through the workday after tossing and turning all night. Lack of sleep can make us cranky and affect our overall function. But did you know that a lack of sleep—or even too much of it—can affect mental health? Existing mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety, can also affect our quality of sleep.
Let’s explore the relationship between sleep and mental health and how to improve both.
What Is the Relationship Between Sleep and Mental Health?
A few psychological conditions can cause sleep issues, whether it’s insomnia or chronic fatigue. The most common disorders or conditions impacting sleep are stress, clinical depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. It could be that mental health conditions worsen our sleep, or separate sleep issues worsen mental health. Conversely, improving mental health can lead to better quality sleep and vice versa.
This circular relationship is why a mental health professional may ask about your sleep habits when filling out a new patient intake form. You should see your doctor if you have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep for more than a few consecutive nights.
What Are Some Mental Health Conditions That Affect Sleep Patterns?
Let’s take a closer look at how certain mental health conditions affect the quality of our sleep:
Stress happens to just about everyone at some point. But stress from circumstances outside of brain chemistry can exacerbate other mental health conditions, which leads to tossing and turning at night. Lack of sleep can make it more challenging to cope with even minor difficulties or challenges. Ironically, not being able to sleep in itself is a stressor, and thinking about it can actually make it more difficult to fall asleep.
Clinical depression has the unique ability to cause chronic fatigue and keep you from being able to fall asleep. It’s also true that insomnia can lead to depression for different reasons. Fortunately, there are treatments available for both. Depression patients with sleep problems can be treated with Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or medication.
Lack of sleep can contribute to anxiety—anxious thoughts can keep one from being able to sleep well. Your body may feel physically tired, but when your brain is active and refuses to “power down,” it can lead to insomnia. This vicious cycle ultimately worsens both sleep quality and anxiety disorder.
Bipolar disorder interrupts sleep in several ways. It can cause insomnia, irregular sleep cycles in which you might wake up several times a night, and nightmares. Bipolar disorder is characterized by manic “highs” and “lows”; a lack of sleep can dramatically worsen both moods. Reduced sleep can exacerbate the depression that accompanies a “low” period, but it can also lead to mania during the “high.” Sleep disturbances tend to precede a manic state. If you’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, your doctor may ask you about your sleep habits as you formulate a treatment plan.
How Can I Improve My Sleep Habits?
Not all sleep conditions are connected to mental health. Still, you should talk to your doctor if you have a diagnosis of depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder and have difficulty falling or staying asleep. Sleep issues may be exacerbating psychological symptoms or vice versa.
In addition to counseling or medication, your doctor may recommend specific lifestyle changes to cultivate good “sleep hygiene.” Here are some suggestions of changes you can make to help improve your sleep:
Limit Your Naps
It may sound counter-intuitive to suggest not taking a nap when you feel tired, but there’s a good reason. If you sleep too much during the day, you may not be tired when it’s time to sleep at night. However, a “power nap” can be helpful to increase alertness during the day without affecting your nightly sleep hours. Limiting these daytime naps to 20 or 30 minutes is an excellent way to balance a need for rest with a need for at least 8 hours at night.
Stick to a Bedtime Routine
Give yourself a bedtime and a wake-up time. About an hour or so before bedtime, start a series of “wind-down” activities such as reading a book, taking a bath, or having a cup of tea. Aim to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends, so your sleep schedule stays regular. These nightly routines can help “train” your brain to power down in preparation for sleep.
Don’t worry; you don’t have to give up your favorite caffeinated beverage. However, it is recommended not to consume coffee or soda during the afternoon. This way, the caffeine is long gone from your system by bedtime.
Turn off the Smartphone
The bright light on your phone screen makes it difficult to mentally and physically relax. Setting limits on smartphone use and computers, tablets, and TVs can have a dramatic impact on your sleep. It’s common for people to scroll through social media or watch TV in bed, but we highly caution against this. Your bedroom should be a place for resting, and screens disrupt that rest. You may want to consider getting a separate alarm clock that isn’t connected to your phone to reduce the temptation to use your phone at night.
Sleep is vital to physical and mental health. Most of us are familiar with the feeling of having to navigate through the day in a sort of fog after tossing and turning all night. Hopefully, most of us also know how great it feels to wake up feeling truly rested. Our licensed mental health professionals at Crownview Co-Occurring Institute in Oceanside, California, can help you achieve the latter. Whether your sleep issues are directly connected to existing mental health disorders like depression or anxiety, or your mental health is worsened by lack of sleep, we can help you get to the root of the problem. We can accomplish this by getting to the heart of your troubled sleep rather than simply treating the symptoms. If you struggle with not being able to fall asleep, stay asleep, or sleep too much, we can help. Call us today at (760) 477-4754.