Sleep and Mental health: Can Sleep patterns affect Mental health?

Sleep and Mental health: Can Sleep patterns affect Mental health?


Sleep and Mental health: Can Sleep patterns 

 affect Mental health?

“We’re not healthy unless our sleep is healthy and we cannot make our sleep healthy unless we become thoroughly aware of both its peril and its promise,” said Dr. William C. Dement, American sleep researcher. Sleep is a crucial component in maintaining one’s well-being. One’s sleep and mental health are inextricably intertwined. Any disturbance in one can severely affect the other. Sleep has been popularly described as, being of the brain, by the brain, for the brain. Sleep disturbances might not seem that big of an issue to us though they are capable of making one’s life hell.  

In this article, ‘Sleep and Mental health: Can sleep patterns affect mental health?’, we shall look into the connection between sleep and mental health, also examine details of how one can affect the other. Without further ado, let’s begin.

Sleep cycles/stages

Before getting ahead into the topic, it is important to know what happens to your body when you sleep. There are mainly two sleep categories namely NREM sleep (Non-Rapid Eye Movement) and REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement). During NREM sleep, a person progresses through 4 stages of increasingly deep sleep. During this sleep cycle, body temperature drops, muscles relax, heart rate and breathing slow down. The deepest stage of NREM sleep produces physiological changes that help boost immune system functioning.

The other sleep category, REM sleep is the period when people dream. Breath rates increase, your pulse quickens, and brain waves are similar to those when you are awake. Temporarily, your body gets paralyzed as you dream. Studies suggest that REM sleep is important for the consolidation of procedural and emotional memories while NREM sleep is important for consolidation of declarative memory.

The connection between Mental health and sleep patterns: Circadian rhythm

Adequate sleep is essential to the general health of every individual since it impacts all of our biological and mental processes and this is deeply tied to the functioning of our circadian rhythm. A person needs approximately 7–9 hours of sleep per day. An average spends nearly 26 years of his life sleeping. People are now sleeping only 6.5 hours per night which is 1.5 hours less than a century ago.

Our circadian rhythm is the natural 24-hour internal process that regulates our sleep/wake cycle and is strongly linked to our physical, mental, and behavioral changes. Julia Morlino, licensed Mental health Counsellor, and writer for Choosing Therapy says, “our circadian rhythm is integrated with our endocrine system. It can regulate our hormones, digestion, and the ability to defend against chronic illnesses like obesity and cancer”. 95% of the body’s serotonin production occurs in the gut. Serotonin is known as the ‘happy hormone’ and it plays a key role in combating depressive feelings, anxiety, and other mental issues.

“Considering that our circadian rhythm helps regulate our digestion as well as sleep and the fact that 95% of serotonin is produced in the gut, one can infer that maintaining a good circadian balance is crucial in maintaining overall mental wellness and in avoiding mental disruption”, said Julia Morlin.

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Why should you sleep early?

An average human being needs 6- 8 hours of sleep. So the time between 8–10 pm is the ideal one to get to bed. 2–3 hours soon after sunset, your melatonin levels increase. This increase in melatonin levels tells your body that it needs to rest. By 10 pm, this reaches its maximum increase. Consequently, your metabolic activity increases aiding repair and regeneration. If you sleep before 10 pm, you will benefit the most. For, the span between 10 pm to 2 am is known as regenerative sleep. After 2 pm your sleep quality deprives. If you sleep after 10pm, you will have very few hours of regenerative sleep left. Thus, by disturbing this natural cycle, you are harming your harmony. “Early to bed and early to rise makes you healthy, happy and wise”, said Benjamin Franklin.

Disturbance in sleep patterns: Can sleep patterns affect Mental health?

Disturbing sleep cycles imply excessive sleep (insomnia), lack of sleep (hypersomnia), and poor sleep quality. According to National Center for Biotechnology Information, USA, short sleep duration, and poor sleep quality may affect mental health. Some of the major and severe disturbances are highlighted below.

1. Memory troubles

In a study, sleep loss (experimentally induced) was associated with impairments in a broad range of cognitive functions like attention, vigilance, and learning. Sleep appears to be necessary for both memory encoding and consolidation.

Lack of sleep prevents your brain from making new memories. All the information that you try to soak in just bounces off your mind. Moreover, you would find it difficult to learn new things and remember old ones.

It is during REM sleep that our brain consolidates certain memories. If a person doesn’t reach that level of sleep, their short-term and long-term memory would be affected deeply. The region of the brain called the hippocampus, which is associated with memory and learning would also be impacted.

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2. Increased risk of Neurodegenerative diseases

Lack of sleep leads to the accumulation of a toxic protein called amyloid-beta in your cerebrospinal fluid. Amyloid-beta occurs naturally in human beings. When you get enough sleep, it is flushed out. But when you don’t get enough sleep, it accumulates and its aggregation is associated with the early onset of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. The more protein that builds up, the greater your risk of developing dementia in your later life.

According to a study, poor sleep is a risk factor for cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. Older adults with dementia exhibit significant sleep disturbances including shorter sleep durations, fragmented sleep, altered circadian activity patterns, underscoring the study mentioned.

Although mechanisms underlying these associations are not yet clear, healthy sleep appears to play an important role in maintaining brain health as you age, and in preventing Alzheimer’s.

3. Sleep disturbances can cause Depression

According to a study, there is a strong association between sleep and depression. About three-quarters of depressed patients suffered insomnia, while young depressed adults older patients suffered hypersomnia, testifying the link between depression and disturbed sleep patterns. It has also been demonstrated that insomnia in non-depressed subjects is a risk factor for later development of depression. Disturbances of circadian rhythms are cardinal features of psychiatric dysfunction.

4. Affect performance

Lack of sleep can trigger mania, adversely affect mood, and contribute to relapse. After nearly 16–18 hours of being awake, your body craves sleep. This span may vary from person to person. According to an article published in Healthline, the longest recorded time without sleep is 264 hours. It’s not clear exactly how long humans last without sleep but within a few hours of being awake, the effects of sleep deprivation start kicking in. Sleep disturbances are also linked to anxiety and hallucinations. A study published in Science Direct suggests that abnormal sleeping patterns in adolescents were associated, suicidality, poor perceived mental and physical health. It suggested that maladaptive use of the internet and sleep problems are significant health concerns among adolescents.

Our lifestyle and many other facts pertained to it can cause sleep deprivation or hypersomnia and lead to many severe changes like disturbing your mental health.

Below, a few stressors are highlighted which can trigger sleep troubles and aggravate them. Make a note of them and if possible, try to shield yourself from their malignant stare.

Sleep disturbing factors

Significant factors that cause sleep deprivation or aggravate it are highlighted below.

1. Screen time and social media use

Our circadian rhythms are also influenced by light. We are programmed to see yellow light spectrums through the day as these signal to our brain to wake up and as the day progresses, red blue light spectrums signal for us to prepare to rest. Personal devices and televisions damage that biological rhythm and can lead to insomnia and other physical ailments. Not only that, social media use is associated with sleep quality among students. A study conducted on 1143 children aged between 6 and 11 years has shown that excessive television game (TVG) playing was linked to the occurrence of sleep deprivation, weakness, and muscle stiffness in the shoulder.

2. Stress and work-related pressure

Students and employees, irrespective of their age, have fallen victim to stress and pressure. Although some people deal with it effectively, some others surrender to it not knowing what to do. These can cause temporary insomnia. But, if this persists it might pave the way to chronic insomnia. In an epidemiological self-assessment survey conducted in Finland, 20% of men considered work-related pressure and fatigue as the most significant factors disturbing their sleep quality.

3. Caffeine

Caffeine is a mild stimulant to our Central Nervous System. We gulp it down several times a day without actually pondering what it does to our brain and body. Caffeine is a huge sleep disruptor and the most commonly abused psychoactive substance. Caffeine can be good for you. But, if your daily consumption limit exceeds, it can exacerbate stress, irritability, and anxiety since your body gets flooded with various sorts of neurotransmitters. “Negative effects of caffeine are further worsened by the addition of sugar as a sweetener. It is primal to remember that caffeine is extremely potent and that it does have an effect on our ability to sleep”, said Stephanie Wijkstrom, Psychotherapist, and Founder of Counselling and Wellness center of Pittsburgh.

4. Emotional trauma

We are human beings, after all. Our lives are bounteously filled with moments of joy, exuberance, pain, tragedies, love, sickness, excitement, angst, affection, travails, etc. Even these emotions and feelings can disturb one’s sleep patterns. In a self-assessment survey, nearly 37% of women reported worries, interpersonal problems, marital and family discord as the most disturbing factors to sleep. The same goes for men too although the reasons vary slightly.

No one has ever told us that life is going to be easy. Some say that life is too short while others say that it’s too long. Life is, as they said, many things. It is inexplicable, unpredictable, and irredeemable. We cannot live the same moment twice. Just think of it, what’s the fun in life if it’s too monotonous. Isn’t it?

Of course, stress, work, and troubles get on our nerves. As the proverb goes, where there is will there’s always a way. All you got to do is delve it out. By learning to deal with them efficiently, you can attain mental harmony and everything you desire.

You can follow simple yet effective tips to combat your sleep disturbances, thus protecting your mental health. Don’t worry. They definitely work because many people follow them including me. Try to see which one suits you best.

(RELATED: Your Brain On Horror Movies: How do horror movies manipulate your brain?)

Sleep hygiene: tips to improve sleep quality

By including/moderating some changes in your lifestyle, you can achieve a healthier and better sleep quality. As the proverb goes, sleep to the sick is half wealth.

1. Meditation- Meditation is a great gift bestowed upon humanity. It trains your mind to let go of all distractions, worries, stressors, etc. and makes you mindful. It helps you concentrate in the present moment. Another exquisite benefit of meditation is that it eases the tightening effect caused by stress and pressure. It is no exaggeration to say that it calms and soothes even the tiniest cell of the human body. It heals you from the inside out.

2. Exercise- We usually carry stress in the form of tension in our body. By stretching your muscles, especially the ones around your neck and shoulder, greater relaxation can be achieved. In addition, exercise tires your body in a positive way. A study suggests that exercising regularly can help you sleep better. One should not exercise close to bedtime as it may have opposite effects.

3. Avoid caffeine- In the second half of the day, avoid caffeine intake. It has a long life (nearly 5–6 hours). If you consume it anytime in the noon or evening, you will have trouble sleeping. The general rule you should use is to try not to have anything containing caffeine from six hours before going to bed. What I do if I fancied a hot drink during this period is trying herbal teas and decaffeinated drinks.

4. Exposure to light- Get bright light exposure in the morning as it helps balance your circadian rhythm. Avoid it in the evening. This also includes the light from personal devices and televisions. Cut down on social media and TVG playing, especially in the later times of the day.

5. Avoid alcohol- Some people are under the misconception that alcohol helps them sleep better. While it is a suppressant and it also helps you sleep better, it reduces your REM sleep duration, which affects you in many ways like being forgetful, memory troubles, etc. Not only that, alcohol reduces your sleep quality.

6. Follow a routine- Follow a routine to relax before going to bed. It could be reading a book or listening to music, etc. Sleep in a dark, quiet, and cool room. You can also add a drop of lavender essential oil to your palm, rub them, and inhale its fragrance. A study suggests that using lavender oil before bed not only helps you fall asleep quicker but also improves the quality of your sleep. Lavender oil application is one of the non-pharmacological options in battling sleep and anxiety issues. Making your bedroom a calming, peaceful space that is optimized for sleep is also necessary. Before drifting off, I ensure that my bed is comfortable. If you have an uncomfortable or unsupportive bed, you could choose to buy a new mattress or a simpler and more affordable first step could be to add a mattress topper to increase your levels of comfort.

7. Create a to-do list- Most of the time, we have trouble sleeping because our minds are preoccupied with all sorts of things we are supposed to do the next morning. So, grab a paper and a pen. Then, list out all the tasks you need to do the next day. Doing this makes you feel more organized. It helps you attain a sense of calm and mental clarity that ultimately will lead to higher quality and more relaxed sleep.

8. Taking a warm bath: During the normal human circadian rhythm, sleep occurs when the core temperature is dropping. This drop in temperature starts about 2 hours before you go to sleep, coinciding with the release of the sleep hormone melatonin.

This is exactly why winding down with a warm bath before bed could be the answer to sleeping better. Many people may think that a warm bath encourages sleep through relaxation, although that does certainly play a factor, there is another scientific reason as to why taking warm bath aids with sleep…and it’s all to do with body temperature.

When our core temperature drops, our bodies are more inclined to think that sleep is soon occurring. Taking a hot bath before bed has a similar effect.

The hot water brings the circulating blood to the surface of the body, which is one of the quickest ways to drop the core body temperature. So as our bodies cool down from a warm bath or shower, our circadian rhythm is signaled to begin making us sleepier. The drop in body temperature causes our body to slow down our heart rate, breathing rate, and digestion — getting our bodies into the perfect rhythm for optimal sleep.

9. Cognitive-behavioral therapist- In severe cases, it is better to opt for cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT helps resolve their problem by identifying the root cause of the troubles which is, thoughts. Yes, sometimes the problem lies in the way we think. As a result, the solution too can be found there. CBT applies this principle.

Concluding: 'Can Sleep patterns affect Mental health?'

English dramatist and prolific writer, Thomas Dekker rightly stated, “sleep is the golden chain that ties health and our bodies together”. You survive on this planet as long as you are healthy. Don’t let your work or anything deteriorate the quality of your lifestyle. What’s the point in making money, working so hard, if you are in an unhealthy state. Try to achieve a balance in your life. Make it worth living.

I hope you liked my article, ‘Sleep and Mental health: Can sleep patterns affect mental health?’. Stay healthy and happy. 


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2 Comments

  1. When I was kid, everyday my parents tell me and my siblings to sleep early before 10pm. But me and my siblings used to watch cartoons till 11:30 pm by putting the volume of TV low.Nowadays time is not at all sufficient to us because of our long traveeling to colleges.
    Before I thought that lack of sleep is a minor problem 🤔but reading to my friend's article @sirishaReddy I have come to know that lack of sleep may lead to major problems like insomnia and hypersomnia😪 and many other brain and body related problems. From today onwards I will try to sleep early though it's tough thing😁.
    I hope that people who r reading to this article will take care of their health after knowing to importance of sleep✌️.

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