It’s no secret that sleep and mental health are closely linked, though science hasn’t yet pinpointed all the exact specifics of the relationship. It seems that the better sleep you get, the more likely you are to enjoy positive and balanced mental health – which is what we all want, right? Scientists have observed that prolonged sleep deprivation can often take a toll on our mental well-being.
6 Ways Sleep Can Impact Mental Health
- Lowered Resilience
- Decreased Concentration
- Mental Lapses
- Sluggish Reaction Time
- Mood Changes
- Poor Decision-Making
Interestingly, patients with mental health issues can have some of the most trouble getting good, healthy sleep. Many patients who seek professional help for mental illness or psychiatric disorders also battle insomnia, daytime sleepiness, and other sleeping disorders.
Sleeping disorders may be especially acute among those who suffer from mental health conditions like attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. Sleep disorders historically have been viewed as symptoms of these mental health issues. Today, there is evidence that suggests common sleep disorders may both raise the risk for mental health issues and perhaps even directly influence or exacerbate mental illness.
Recent breakthroughs in neuroimaging and neurochemistry show us that getting the right amount of healthy sleep can boost emotional and mental well-being and resilience, while poor sleep is a risk factor for negative thinking patterns and feelings of vulnerability.
1. Lowered Resilience
Let’s face it – life can be tough. Each of us faces stress, anxiety, challenges and problems every single day. Our resilience defines our ability to keep going anyway, to approach a problem from a different angle and to stick with it until we get it solved. Consistently getting a good night’s sleep is a key factor in our ability to deal with the stress we face in everyday life.
Each day, we are bombarded with new information, and falling asleep allows both our body and our brain some vital “reset time.” We need to process all of the sensory information and try to make some sense of it – to file it away so that it’s ready for retrieval when we need it. It’s key for mental and emotional resilience. In fact, one study that followed military veterans for 37 years found that healthy sleep was the single most powerful and accurate predictor of mental resilience. It’s a big deal.
2. Decreased Concentration
If you find yourself being extra forgetful, having trouble focusing on specific tasks, it may be because you’re getting insufficient sleep. If you’re getting less than six or seven hours of sleep each night, your brain may not be getting the rest it needs. It can become more difficult to focus on a problem, or you may get confused more easily, which can hamper your ability to carry out any kind of task that is complex and requires concentration and logical reasoning.
3. Mental Lapses
Insufficient sleep can also short-circuit your memory. Sleep-deprived individuals tend to forget things more easily, misplace items, and generally not feel their best. When this is combined with the inability to concentrate or focus effectively, the long-term effects further hamper memory. The inability to focus and retrieve stored memories can even affect the learning process. The lack of focus makes it hard to pick up information in the first place, let alone remember it. For children, sleep disturbance may also lead to hyperactivity, which makes the whole learning process even that much more difficult.
4. Sluggish Reaction Time
Sleep issues can delay your reaction time by slowing down your thought processes. And if you’re driving a motor vehicle or doing other work that requires a quick response time, this can be dangerous. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has estimated that as many as 100,000 reported crashes each year may be due to driver fatigue – that’s a lot of sleep-deprived drivers. Driving while sleepy may be just as dangerous as driving while intoxicated. Slow reaction times can also be dangerous for people who work in fields where they need to make split-second, gut-reaction decisions that either help or hamper the safety of others – like firefighters, police officers, and soldiers.
5. Mood Changes
There are two areas of the brain that are instrumental for successfully regulating your emotions – the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. When we experience sleep deprivation, the prefrontal cortex can develop decrements, which prevents the amygdala and prefrontal cortex from properly working together. This can lead to difficulty controlling emotions, which may cause increased negative feelings that are even harder to control.
It can turn into a vicious cycle – when humans experience more negative emotions than usual, we tend to have greater mood swings. We become much more emotionally volatile, grumpy, and irritable when our bodies don’t get good sleep. MRIs can now show that when our brains get the proper amount of sleep, the prefrontal cortex and amygdala work together, with the prefrontal cortex serving as an emotional steering wheel that keeps the more primitive amygdala from spiraling out of control. Science!
People who are sleep deprived are often quick to anger. According to the National Sleep Foundation, drivers who don’t get enough sleep are most likely to feel rage during a traffic jam and are more likely to get into an altercation with another driver.
6. Poor Decision-Making
A brain deprived of sleep can make poor decisions – including taking unnecessary risks and even acting against one’s own moral or ethical code. The prefrontal cortex helps us make reasonable decisions and logical choices based on our internal moral compass. People who are sleep deprived are often observed making poor choices, sometimes with severe consequences. This is especially true if their emotions are running high – all symptoms of insufficient sleep.
When our self-control runs low, it can affect our ability to refuse life’s little temptations – like that chocolate croissant or that third glass of wine. This can help explain why poor sleep habits and sleep deprivation may be related to overeating or making poor nutrition choices – perhaps even leading to some eating disorders. We just aren’t as good at making sound and logical decisions when our prefrontal cortex isn’t getting the restoration it needs.
The Power of Sleep Disruption
A healthy sleeper will typically cycle through the four stages of sleep. In the deepest stages of sleep, the body experiences physiological changes that enhance the functioning of the immune system. And the sleep experienced during the rapid eye movement – or REM – stage, helps support brain functions like memory, learning, and emotional health. Prolonged sleep deprivation can wreak havoc on our mental and emotional capacity, impeding critical thinking and even lowering the immune system.
According to Harvard Medical School, if you get less than six hours of sleep for a full week, you’ve racked up a full night’s worth of sleep debt. As it turns out, that’s more than you’re physically able to make up for by sleeping a little extra on the weekend. It’s a tremendous detriment to your long-term health – both physically and mentally.
What About Oversleeping?
The issues we’ve discussed here refer to the effects of sleep deprivation or sleep disturbance. But there’s no problem with sleeping too much, right? Actually, that’s wrong – many of the same cognitive issues related to sleep deprivation are also seen in patients who get too much sleep. Sleeping more than physically necessary is still a sign of a disordered sleep cycle and circadian rhythm, and it may be a sign of poor sleep quality.
Sleeping too much can also be a sign of a sleep disorder, such as obstructive sleep apnea or narcolepsy, and could be related to mental disorders like anxiety and depression. So, how much sleep do you actually need? That depends, but if someone is sleeping more than nine hours a night and still feeling sleepy, that’s a sign that there may be a more serious problem. Sleeping too much can actually lead to some of the same symptoms as sleep deprivation – specifically, mental sluggishness, slow reaction times, and trouble regulating emotions.
Can a New Mattress Actually Help?
The short answer is – yes, absolutely! Your old mattress may be preventing you from getting the rest you need. In fact, in one study, a new mattress led to a 48% improvement in back discomfort and a 55% improvement in overall sleep quality. So, if you don’t feel refreshed and well-rested when you wake up in the morning – and especially if your mattress is more than five or so years old – a new mattress might be the key to how to sleep better.
We may be a bit biased, but if you’re going to buy a new mattress, you might as well choose Purple. Only Purple® Mattresses can provide the comfort of the Purple Grid™, which instantly adapts to your body so it’s soft and supportive, no matter your body type or favorite sleeping position.
Impact of Sleep on Mental Health
All too often, we think of sleep as a luxury – but it really isn’t. As more sleep studies are done, we continue to see how important sleep is for our overall physical and mental health. The bottom line: Sleep is a must-have, not a nice-to-have. And a consistent good night’s sleep can help improve your overall mental and physical health.
A good night’s sleep can help you feel your best. Sleep can also improve your ability to learn, make good decisions, and even regulate your emotions. It’s important to take the right steps to improve your sleep hygiene – including investing in the right mattress, pillows and other bedding – so that you can get a good night’s sleep every night. You won’t regret it – and your body and brain both will thank you!