A good night’s sleep matters for the mind
Irritability. Low energy and productivity. Trouble concentrating. Feeling low. All these issues can be caused by lack of sleep. March is National Sleep Awareness Month which highlights the importance of good sleep health and its affects on our overall health and wellness.
The National Sleep Foundation stress that adults need seven to nine hours of sleep per night, and less may pose serious consequences to a person’s health and safety. But we are nation of sleepy people. An estimated 40 million people suffer from chronic sleep disorders and another 20 million people have occasional sleep issues.
It’s well established that lack of sleep has direct physiological effects on the body from increased risk for heart disease, cancer, weight gain and more. But more recently, the medical community has studied the connection between sleep problems and the mind, indicating there is a direct link to depression and anxiety as well as triggering mental disorders such as mania or bipolar depression.
Insomnia, difficulty falling or staying asleep, is the most major and common sleep disorder. Others include sleep apnea (obstructed breathing that causes multiple awakenings) and narcolepsy (falling asleep suddenly during the day).
Sleep deprivation effects your psychological state and mental health. And those with mental health problems are more likely to have insomnia or other sleep disorders. Even periodic or small levels of sleep deprivation can impact mind and moods. The Harvard Mental Health Newsletter states that “Once viewed only as symptoms, sleep problems may actually contribute to psychiatric disorders.” People who sleep poorly are much more likely to develop significant mental illness, including depression and anxiety, than those who sleep well.
According to National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), more than one-half of insomnia cases are related to depression, anxiety or psychological stress. NAMI also reports that poor sleep has been shown to significantly worsen the symptoms of many mental health issues and severe sleep problems can decrease the effectiveness of certain treatments. Treatment of sleep disorders has also been studied in relationship to schizophrenia, ADHD and other mental illnesses. All the scientific data shows the connection between medical and mental illnesses: good sleep is necessary for recovery—or prevention—in both types of conditions.
The Australia’s Sleep Health Foundation offers these recommendations to improve sleep. The first step for many people is to improve their sleep habits. A regular bedtime and waking time are essential, as are avoiding stimulants before going to bed (cigarettes and caffeine), having enough exercise during the day (not too close to bedtime), eating well and ensuring that the bedroom is quiet and dark, and the bed is comfortable.
Removing all electronic screens from the bedroom is difficult for some people, but mobile phones, computers and televisions in the bedroom are a major cause of sleep disruption. Some people may need to seek the assistance of a sleep psychologist and very occasionally the short-term use of medication may be helpful.
The relationship between sleep and mood is complex, because disrupted sleep can lead to emotional changes, clinical depression or anxiety (as well as other psychiatric conditions), but these conditions can also compound or further disrupt sleep. Remember that any sleep pattern changes occurring on a regular basis should be addressed with your doctor to rule out underlying physical or mental health issues. To learn more about sleep disorders and treatments, visit. To learn more about sleep issues and treatments, visit www.sleepfoundation.org.
Susan Kozak has been a licensed social worker for the past 31 years and currently serves as the executive director of Community Care Services, a position she has held since 2011.