5 Ways Sleep Impacts Your Mental Health
I had eye surgery about eight years ago, a surgery where, instead of knocking you out, they used a lucid anesthesia. No pain, but you can hear and respond to the doctor.
After the procedure, I went home to sleep it off. And, oh my goodness, did I sleep. I had the best rest I’ve ever had in my life. I woke up feeling like Spiderman after the spider bite. Before surgery? Anxiety and insomnia. After 10 hours of sleep? Rejuvenation and a better emotional outlook.
It was like magic, that 10 hours of sleep, except it wasn’t magic. It was science. Sleep and mental health are intertwined in handful of important ways:
Lack of sleep is often a symptom of mental illness.
Lack of sleep, and the physical and mental malaise that comes with it, has long been a symptom of mental illnesses like depression or anxiety. When you don’t get enough sleep so many things happen to your brain. It slows down and you become lethargic. Your memory suffers. You can’t learn new things as easily as you should. You feel less productive. You wake up in a bad mood.
Look at some of the symptoms of major depressive disorder from WebMD: Daily loss of energy, feeling worthless, impaired concentration. They can all be tied to not getting enough sleep.
Lack of sleep can exacerbate many mental disorders.
We know that failing to get enough sleep on a daily basis can also worsen mental illness like depression and anxiety. Again, you can’t cope with life’s ups and downs when you’re tired.
For example, according to research by the National Sleep Foundation, patients with untreated insomnia are between two and 10 times more likely to experience recurring bouts of depression. Insomnia may also be a risk factor for developing anxiety disorders and substance abuse.
Lack of sleep may cause mental illness.
When you sleep enough day to day, your brain can communicate with parts of itself that help us make good sense of what’s going on in the world around it. When you don’t get enough sleep, your brain rewires itself, reaching out to an area that secretes norepinephrine, something akin to adrenalin which kickstarts the stressful fight-or-flight response.
At an extreme, operating at a sleep deficit can lead to mental illness like bipolar disorder. There is also evidence that sleep apnea is linked to attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
On the other hand, getting enough sleep improves one’s ability to battle stress.
It’s scary to think a restless night can put you at risk for something as serious as depression, but getting enough sleep will enable you to cope with your worries more productively.
Also, even if losing sleep exacerbates or causes mental illness, it’s encouraging to know doctors are now treating sleep disorders using the same techniques they use to treat mental disorders.
For example, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can also effectively treat the anxiety that makes it hard to sleep. CBT seeks to change how we feel and the things we do to achieve better sleep.
And, getting enough sleep allows your body and mind to heal.
When you can regularly hit all of the stages of sleep, your body operates like an incredible piece of machinery, healing itself and preparing you for a new day. Sleep is restorative for body and mind. Duh.
GOOD SLEEP, GOOD HEALTH
Physical and mental healing happens when we sleep, but how do we achieve good sleep?
Well, you have to prepare for it like a high-level athlete:
- Change your lifestyle. No caffeine, nicotine or video screens three hours before bed.
- Exercise regularly. It helps you fall asleep faster.
- Meditate, do guided imagery or deep breathing exercises to relieve anxiety.
- Give yourself a regular bedtime and wake-up time.
- Use your bedroom for sex or sleeping only.
- Create a comfortable, relaxing space for sleep.
What does a comfortable and relaxing sleep space feel like? Maybe a swan dive into something warm and fluffy, yet supportive. Sounds like the perfect bed.
A GOOD NIGHT’S REST
Think of sleep like a fishing line and your mental health as the fish. With enough sleep, you can cast your line as far as you need to in order to catch solutions to problems, connect with others and stimulate creativity.
Losing an hour is like having someone on the other end grabbing your line and making it shorter and shorter. Then you’re casting with a line that can’t reach the fish. You fail. And you find it harder to think, communicate and cope.
Surprise. The World Health Organization defines mental health as the exact opposite: feeling well enough to realize your potential, cope with the “normal stresses of life” and live productively.
Sleeping well can feel like a magic solution, but it’s good science and worth the effort.