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Cultivating Mental Health: The Importance of Sleep to Your Mental Health

In our blog series, “Cultivating Mental Health”, we are exploring key elements that affect our mental health and emotional well-being. It is our hope that by sharing this information, you will be inspired to plant positive self-care habits into your life that will improve your mental health and propagate feelings of well-being and happiness. This installment will focus on the important relationship between sleep and mental health.

Now, most of us would agree that a poor night’s sleep can make for a rough day – both, for us and those around us. After all, there is a reason it is said that someone in a bad mood “woke up on the wrong side of the bed.” The effects of inadequate sleep can influence our mood, emotional reactivity, and cognitive function. But, why? And, how important is sleep to our overall mental health, really?

The answer to that, is VERY! Adequate restorative sleep is essential to achieving and maintaining mental health.

The Importance of Sleep to Mental Health

Wake up … Sit up … Big stretch … Smile! It’s going to be a great day! Who doesn’t love a good night’s sleep?!

If you’ve ever awoke feeling well-rested, content, and recharged, then you likely experienced a night of good restorative sleep. Restorative sleep is a deep, relatively uninterrupted sleep that restores and refreshes your mind and body.

There are 4 phases in the sleep cycle, during which many important restorative functions occur to both the body and mind. Each stage plays a role in brain health; however, the phases of “deep sleep” (NREM) and REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep are the two stages that are most restorative to our cognitive, emotional, and mental health.

The deep sleep stage, which is the third stage of the sleep cycle, allows for body’s recovery and growth. It can also bolster the immune system and other important bodily processes. During deep sleep, brain activity is reduced, contributing to insightful thinking, creativity, and memory.

REM sleep is commonly known as the dream state, as this when dreams occur. It is the fourth stage of the sleep cycle. During this stage, brain activity increases and goes about processing emotional information. The brain works to remember and evaluate thoughts and memories and file them away for later recall. It has been shown that lack of REM sleep can be harmful in the consolidation of positive emotional content, such as good thoughts and memories. This can influence mood and emotional reactivity. Lack of REM sleep is also associated with mental health disorders, their severity, and an increased risk for suicidal thoughts or behaviors.

The Relationship Between Sleep and Mental Health

Traditionally, it was believed that sleep problems were the result of mental health conditions, but ongoing research calls that theory into question. Current research identifies an important and bi-directional relationship between sleep and mental health.

On one hand, mental health disorders often make it difficult to sleep well and commonly contribute to bouts of insomnia. In fact, in the United States, it is estimated that 50% to 80% of psychiatric patients experience chronic sleep problems, compared to 10% to 18% of the general adult population.

On the other hand, chronic sleep problems are linked to the onset or worsening of mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and other conditions. People with insomnia are twice as likely to develop depression, compared to persons without sleeping disorders. And, in one study, 40% of participants with insomnia also had a mental illness.

So, you see, mental health disorders can be both a CAUSE and EFFECT of poor sleep quality and/or deprivation. It can be difficult to define which came first - a bit like the “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” quandary. However, both sleep disorders and mental health disorders are treatable in most cases, so it’s important to be forthcoming with your physician or mental health care provider about any issues you are experiencing.

Daily Sleep Recommendations

Not only is the quality of your sleep important, but also the quantity. The amount of sleep that you need changes as you age. Below are expert recommendations on the amount of sleep you should strive for each day.

Age Group Recommended Hours of Sleep Per Day

  • Newborn 0–3 months: 14–17 hours
  • Infant 4–12 months: 12–16 hours per 24 hours (including naps)
  • Toddler 1–2 years: 11–14 hours per 24 hours (including naps)
  • Preschool 3–5 years: 10–13 hours per 24 hours (including naps)
  • School Age 6–12 years: 9–12 hours per 24 hours
  • Teen 13–18 years: 8–10 hours per 24 hours
  • Adult 18–60 years: 7 or more hours per night
  • 61–64 years: 7–9 hours
  • 65 years and older: 7–8 hours

Tips For Improving Sleep Health

Sometimes, getting a good night’s sleep can be harder than it sounds. However, implementing some healthy bedtime habits into your routine can significantly increase your chances for a full night of restorative sleep.

Try starting your routine with a stress relieving exercise, such as meditation, exercise, yoga or a conversation with a loved one or therapist. It’s always best to approach sleep with a relaxed body and calm mind. 

Here are more suggestions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that can help improve your sleep health:

  • Keep a consistent sleep schedule
  • Maintain a sleep environment that promotes a good night’s sleep — for example, keeping your bedroom dark, quiet, and on the cooler side
  • Leave your computer, phone, and other screens outside of the bedroom
  • Stick to smaller meals or light snacks before bed
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, or nicotine in the hours before bedtime


Related Articles

Cultivating Mental Health: Blog Series Introduction

Cultivating Mental Health: How to Improve Your Mental Health Through Nutrition

Cultivating Mental Health: The Benefits of Exercise to Your Mental Health

Cultivating Mental Health: The Importance of Social Relationships

Cultivating Mental Health: Protecting Your Mental Health on Social Media

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