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Mental Health and Sleep

Make Mental Health for all a global priority – 2022 World Mental Health Day

There’s a very close relationship between sleep and mental health. Living with a mental health problem can affect how well we sleep, and poor sleep can have a negative impact on our mental health.

While there is ongoing research to better understand the connections between mental health and sleep, the evidence to date points to the fact that sleep problems may be both a cause and result of mental health conditions.

So today, as we celebrate World Mental Health Day, we want to raise awareness to a few aspects that can help us to better understand this bidirectional relationship and to look after our sleep and our mental health.

Sleep  is a very complex and active process that involves our entire body! Our body gets into an “energy saving mode” whilst we sleep, so that important functions can take place.

Our brain activity fluctuates during sleep, increasing and decreasing during different sleep stages. In NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep, overall brain activity slows, but there are quick bursts of energy. In REM sleep, brain activity picks up rapidly, which is why this stage is associated with more intense dreaming. It is actually during this specific sleep stage that our brain is processing information, organising thoughts, memories and creating new connections, like a busy filling cabinet getting organised! 

Each stage plays a role in brain health, allowing activity in different parts of the brain to ramp up or down and enabling better thinking, learning, and memory. Research has also shown us that brain activity during sleep has profound effects on emotional and mental health.

Sufficient sleep, especially REM sleep, facilitates the brain’s processing of emotional information and it seems that a lack of sleep is especially harmful to the consolidation of positive emotional content. This can influence mood and emotional reactivity and is tied to mental health disorders and their severity.

On the other hand, mental health disorders are known to affect our sleep in different ways, depending on the mental health problem.

Worry, anxiety and fear contribute to a state of hyperarousal in which the mind and body are racing, and hyperarousal is considered to be a central contributor to insomnia, for example.

Our body gets into this state of “fight or flight” which difficults our relaxation and our sleep.

A common cause of sleeping problems is poor sleep hygiene. Improving sleep hygiene by implementing healthier habits and a bedroom setting that are conducive to better sleep quality can highly contribute to reducing sleep disruptions.

Examples of steps that can be taken for healthier sleep habits include:

  • Having a regular bedtime and wake up time, maintaining a steady sleep pressure and sleep opportunity
  • Finding ways to wind-down, such as with relaxation techniques, as part of a standard routine before bedtime
  • Avoiding alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine, specially in the evening
  • Dimming lights and putting away electronic devices for an hour before bedtime
  • Getting regular exercise and natural light exposure during the daytime
  • Maximising comfort and support from your mattress, pillows, and bedding
  • Blocking out excess light and sound that could disrupt sleep

Look after your sleep and your mental health!

If you are struggling to sleep well, you are not alone. Please reach out to our resident sleep expert Dr Ana Brito for advice on the steps to take to better your sleep at coaching.sleep8.eu