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How Sleep Affects Mental Health

Updated: Sep 5, 2022

You can't function at your best and your brain is not working it's best, when you don't have adequate sleep. Sleep is important for many aspects of our health as it helps your body and brain function properly. Lack of sleep can also result in a higher risk of physical health problems as well as lower brain functioning. Our sleep patterns can also indicate if there are underlying issues in our physical and mental health. Here are five ways sleep can affect mental health:

  1. Energy Levels Having adequate amounts of sleep can help a person to have more energy and feel rested. This is because when we sleep and enter deep sleep, the brain is able to renew and restore itself. Having more energy throughout the day helps a person to feel more alert, successful, perform tasks well and have a more positive affect and emotions. Low energy levels can leave a person with a low affect, more negative emotions, struggle to complete tasks, at all or to a high standard, and feeling poorly about themselves.

  2. Attention & Focus When people don't get enough sleep, their attention and concentration abilities decline. One study found that just a little sleep deprivation—the loss of 2 hours of sleep per night for 14 nights—left participants with poorer performance on certain neurobehavioral tasks that involved attention and short-term memory.

  3. Less Irritable "A large body of research supports the connection between sleep deprivation and mood changes such as increased anger and aggression. Individuals who get an adequate amount of sleep each night exhibit fewer emotional outbursts, such as anger, and display fewer aggressive behaviors" The Amygdala, Sleep Debt, Sleep Deprivation, and the Emotion of Anger: A Possible Connection?

  4. Depression "Insomnia and other sleep problems can be a symptom of depression, but more recently, research has implicated lack of sleep in actually causing depression. One analysis of 21 different studies found that people who experience insomnia have a two-fold risk of developing depression over those who do not have problems sleeping.2 The question then is whether helping people improve their sleep might actually lessen their chances of developing depression" (Very Well Mind).

  5. Less Caffeine Consumption Those who get a good night's sleep are less reliant on caffeine throughout their day. Caffeine can interfere with sleep when consumed as long as six hours before bedtime, reducing sleep by an hour and interfering with sleep efficiency and REM patterns, according to a study by Christopher Drake, PhD, of the Henry Ford Hospital in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine (2013). Caffeine is notorious for causing the jitters and anxiety, particularly at higher doses. People with underlying mental health issues may be more susceptible: a review of eight studies found that caffeine aggravated symptoms of anxiety and panic disorder (Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics, 2011).

Written by Charlotte Cox, MSW LCSW - Co-Owner and Therapist at Orenda Counseling LLC. Also published in The Zine has Issues.

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