Healthy sleep is critical to repair and rejuvenate your body and mind, yet 50 to 70 million American adults live with a sleep disorder. Emotional and psychological variables play a major role in chronic insomnia, particularly symptoms of anxiety and depression.
While sleep issues were a significant concern prior to the 2020 pandemic, research shows that COVID-19 altered sleep schedules and sleep health behaviors around the world, taking a toll on self-reported sleep quality.
Study Finds Connection Between Social Jetlag and Self-Perceived Sleep Quality
Typically, it would be expected that a decrease in social jetlag would lead to improved sleep quality. However, in two recent studies, it was found that overall sleep quality declined.
- Sleep in University Students Prior to and During COVID-19 Stay-at-Home Orders
- Effects of the COVID-19 Lockdown on Human Sleep and Rest-Activity Rhythms
Social jetlag is defined as “the time difference between the midpoint of sleep on workdays and on free days.” It is a consequence of the difference between your biological rhythm and daily schedule in terms of social constraints.
Researchers believe that the self-perceived burden, which increased during the recent lockdown, potentially outweighed the expected beneficial effects of declining social jetlag.
Bottom line: While individuals were getting more sleep and showcased a more regular sleep schedule during stay-at-home orders, they reported that sleep quality had worsened. This is likely due to the stress of the pandemic.
How Sleep Impacts Mental Health
Numerous studies have reported a strong link between poor sleep and health issues. Social jetlag, irregular sleep, insufficient sleep contribute to an increased risk of heart disease, weight gain, mood disorders, substance abuse, poor immune function, and more.
When it comes to mental health, you have likely experienced the relationship between sleep and mood first-hand. Following a sleepless night, you become more irritable and vulnerable to stress — and while resumed normal sleep can dramatically improve these short-term symptoms, for some, psychological issues continue day after day.
Studies have found that between 15 and 20 percent of people diagnosed with insomnia will develop major depression — and rates of anxiety are even worse. Research has shown that those with insomnia are 20 times more likely to develop a panic disorder.
Do You Sleep Poorly? Here’s What to Do About It
“Sleep is the best meditation.” — Dalai Lama
Do you wake up feeling tired? Do you struggle to get through the day due to possible sleep problems? Is it impacting your mental health? If so, it’s time to make sleep a top priority.
While the relationship between sleep and mental health is complex, here are some suggestions to improve sleep quality and overall health.
- Exercise! As recommended by Sleep.org, getting as little as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise can dramatically improve the quality of your sleep. Early morning and afternoon exercise has been shown to help reset the sleep-wake cycle and when you exercise on a regular basis, you can also relieve stress.
- Address your mental health. If you’re unable to sleep due to stress, depression, or anxiety, this is likely creating a vicious cycle. While there are many lifestyle changes you can make to actively improve your mental health, it’s important to seek help if you need it. Personalized counseling can help you get back on track.
- Be mindful of your exposure to light. To do so, expose yourself to bright morning sunlight, spend more time outdoors throughout the day, avoid screens 1-2 hours before bed, etc.
Remember, your body and mind connected, which is why you need to focus on all aspects of your current daily routine. Whether you need to address your diet or sleep environment, the most important step is to become more mindful that changes do need to be made.
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