Sleep is so important for general wellbeing and for our mental health.
But while there is a lot that we know about how sleep impacts us, there is still so much that we do not know and are exploring.
How does Sleep affect Mental Health?
Generally we will progress through cycles of sleep throughout the night.
When we sleep, our bodies will go through some fluctuating changes. Body temperature can drop, heart rate and breathing slow down and our muscles relax.
We also go into what is called REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, this is where we dream. Our body temperature, blood pressure, breathing and heart rate increase. REM sleep increases memory and learning and helps our physiological and emotional health (Siegel, 2017).
Good quality sleep is determined by the amount of REM sleep we can achieve, not how many hours of sleep in total. Generally REM sleep will occur after the first few hours of falling asleep.
The Effects of Sleep Deprivation
Sleep disruption and deprivation can look like:
- difficulty getting to sleep;
- less sleep than required;
- frequent waking in the night;
- poor quality sleep;
- waking early and unable to go back to sleep.
We understand thus far that disruption of sleep affects various aspects of our body, including:
- Concentration, leading to impaired thinking;
- Our ability to regulate emotions and moods;
- Levels of pain;
- Our immune system.
What can disrupt our sleep?
It is difficult to get through the day after a night of waking, tossing and turning.
Regulating emotions is more difficult and we find it harder to cope with the minor stresses of daily life. We can feel frustrated, irritated, short tempered and frazzled by small annoyances. Sometimes knowing that we have had a bad night’s sleep can be a source of stress within itself.
Lack of sleep can be a factor in causing depression. If we are unable to feel rested, productive, and have trouble performing our work/home duties effectively then we can tend to have a negative inner dialogue, bullying and punishing ourselves for not being as productive.
Anxiety comes into play with sleep disruption as this means we are ruminating about situations from our day, analysing and preparing all the possible scenarios for the next day.
Tips to Help Improve Sleep
Given that we now understand how important sleep is for your mental health, here are some tips to help you improve your sleepl
Lifestyle changes: Limiting caffeine intake (this may mean being more aware of what we consume regularly that contains caffeine eg chocolate, coffee, energy drinks). Also, alcohol is a depressant, it depresses the nervous system which may assist us to fall asleep, however it does not allow us to have a quality of sleep that is restorative.
Nicotine is another stimulant which increases the heart rate and our thinking.
Perhaps changing your room around or purchasing new sheets to help change how the room looks and feels.
Physical activity: Regular physical activity (though not just before bedtime!) helps with falling asleep, achieving more time in deep restorative sleep and waking up less throughout the night. (Wu, Tao, Zhang, Zhang & Tao, 2015)
Sleep hygiene: This is a fancy term for maintaining a regular sleep/wake schedule and bedtime routine.
Some tips that can help are using the bedroom only for sleeping, sex, as well as keeping it dark and free from distractions such as a computer or TV (Ghrouz et al, 2019).
Relaxation: Meditation, guided imagery, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation and journaling are some of the ways that help with managing anxious thoughts at bedtime.
Try adopting the following morning / daily / bedtime basic routine to help with improving your sleep patterns:
- Upon waking, get out of bed (put your alarm across the other side of the room).
- Get up around the same time every day.
- Step outside for sunshine and fresh air.
- Do some physical activity (gym, run, walk, yoga etc).
- Try to avoid napping through the day.
- Work in some physical activity.
- Be aware and limit caffeine intake (avoid from 2pm).
- Work through any stressful events that may have occurred during the day to avoid ruminating on this.
- Don’t go to bed too early.
- Avoid caffeine, smoking, vigorous exercise, and alcohol before bed.
- Ensure you have eaten enough and have been to the bathroom.
- Have time and space to unwind from the day,
- Do not use your phone or other electronics in the 30-60 minutes before bedtime, as they emit blue light which affects melatonin production which in turn impacts sleep (Wu, Tao, Zhang, Zhang & Tao, 2015).
Difficulty sleeping can last for days, weeks, months or even years for some people.
This can become a vicious cycle – we can find ourselves becoming anxious about sleep, which can worsen the problem. If there is still difficulty going to sleep, you can try:
- Getting up again after 30 minutes.
- Play cards, have a warm bath, read, crossword, puzzle, or try breathing techniques.
- Go back to bed when feeling more relaxed and tired.
- If struggling still, repeat the process.
Author: Aleah Haffenden, B Soc Wk, Grad Cert Suicide Prevention, AMHSW.
Aleah Haffenden is an Accredited Mental Health Social Worker, working primarily with young people (aged 15 and up). She takes a client-focused approach, using a mix of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), tailored to their specific needs.
To make an appointment with Aleah Haffenden, try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call Vision Psychology Wishart on (07) 3088 5422 or M1 Psychology Loganholme on (07) 3067 9129.
- Ghrouz, A. K., Noohu, M. M., Manzar, M. D., Spence, D. W., BaHammam, A. S., & Pandi-Perumal, S. R. (2019). Physical activity and sleep quality in relation to mental health among college students. Sleep and Breathing, 23(2), 627-634.
- Siegel, J. M. (2017). Rapid eye movement sleep. Principles and practice of sleep medicine, 6, 78-95.
- Wu, X., Tao, S., Zhang, Y., Zhang, S., & Tao, F. (2015). Low physical activity and high screen time can increase the risks of mental health problems and poor sleep quality among Chinese college students. PloS one, 10(3), e0119607.