Link between sleep & mental health

Sleep is essential for the physical upkeep of our body. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to maintain cognitive skills such as attention, learning, memory and emotional regulation. It is the way for the body and mind to rest and recover.

But there are times when our sleep can be affected from time to time for different reasons, whether it’s due to poor physical or mental health. And what’s worse, poor sleep and health go hand in hand and overtime, can cause our health to become worse if the issue isn’t resolved.

Poor sleep is a recognised risk factor for the development of a range of mental health issues, but thankfully there are proven ways to improve sleep quality and break out of this vicious cycle.

A review of research found evidence that insomnia preceded the development of not only depression but also bipolar disorder and anxiety disorders. The researchers also found a link between insomnia and an increased risk of suicide.

Psychiatrists have proposed three interrelated factors to explain the close two-way relationship between sleep and mental illness:

  • Emotional dysregulation
  • Genetics, in particular relating to the circadian “clock” that regulates the sleep-wake cycle
  • Disruption of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep

Most of us have intuited from personal experience that a night of disturbed sleep can make us feel a little down and lathargic the next day. A 2005 study of medical residents in Israel, for example, found that poor sleep increased negative emotional responses when the going got tough at work the following day. It also decreased positive emotional responses when things went well.

More recently, a study in Norway found that delaying going to bed for 2 hours, but still getting up at the normal time, stifled positive emotions, such as joy, enthusiasm, and a sense of fulfillment. This effect increased with every consecutive day of delayed sleep.

Continual misalignments between a person’s internal “clock” and their actual sleeping pattern may contribute to their vulnerability to these conditions.

Interestingly, scientists have yet to find any association between circadian clock genes and major depression. However, several lines of evidence implicate a sleep stage known as REM sleep.

After you fall asleep, your brain enters three progressively deeper stages of non-REM sleep, which is mostly dreamless. After about 90 minutes, it enters REM sleep, which is when most dreaming occurs.

Normally, the brain will cycle through these stages several times in the course of a night’s sleep, with the REM stages getting progressively longer. However, people with major depression tend to enter their first REM sleep stage more quickly than usual after falling asleep, and it lasts longer.

How you can help yourself:

  • Firstly, find out what your circadian clock is- are you an early riser or a night owl? We have a previous blog where you can discover what your body clock animal is. This can help you to establish what bedtime works for you and there are ways you can adjust this with your doctor.
  • Consider looking into ways you could adapt your lifestyle to aid your sleep. Do you tend to use technology late at night before bed? This is a very common
  • Speak to a professional such as a doctor or psychiatrist. Don’t suffer in silence.