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Sleep’s Impact on Mental Health

We’ve always been told eight hours of sleep is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. During the night, your immune system receives a boost, your risk of heart disease decreases, and inflammation goes down. But the effects of getting enough rest extend far beyond the physical benefits.

How sleep affects mental health

According to Harvard Medical School, every 90 minutes, a normal sleeper cycles between two major categories of sleep: quiet sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. 

During quiet sleep, body temperature drops, muscles relax, and the heart rate slows. 

REM sleep is the period when people usually dream. Body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing increase to levels similar to when a person is awake. Studies report this sleep cycle enhances learning, solidifies memory, and contributes to better emotional health.

Any disruption to sleep can wreak havoc in the brain, impairing emotional regulation, and possibly worsen the effects of certain mental health conditions.

Psychological impact of sleep

The connections between disordered sleeping can be most commonly observed with the following mental health conditions: 

  • Depression — Around 75% of people diagnosed with depression report having trouble sleeping and experience excessive daytime sleepiness. While these kinds of sleeping problems are often noted as a symptom of depression, a lack of sleep can also induce or exacerbate depressive episodes. 
  • Seasonal affective disorder — As a type of depression, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is the result of a disruption to a person’s internal biological clock. This clock is what controls sleep patterns, making it difficult to fall asleep, stay asleep, or wake up.
  • Anxiety disorders — Anxiety disorders have a strong association to sleep deprivation. Worry and fear can keep the brain up at night and lead to unhealthy sleep patterns.
  • ADHD — Sleep disorders are common in people with ADHD. While prompted by the brain’s likeliness to be in hyperactive mode, a lack of sleep also has negative consequences on the patient’s attention span and behavioral regulation.

Finding help

Finding a solution for mental health conditions and sleep disorders may include congruent treatments for both. With cognitive behavioral therapy or another form of mental health treatment, patients are able to address mental health conditions that may be causing sleep issues. With sleep disorder treatments, patients can ensure better sleep and reduce psychological symptoms associated with sleep deprivation.

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