Sleep plays a crucial role in maintaining mental health and well-being. As a state of reduced mental and physical activity, the purpose of sleep is to allow the brain to rest and repair itself.
We’ve all felt cranky after a bad night’s sleep, but how does persistent sleep deprivation affect our mental health?
How does lack of sleep affect mental health?
There’s a close relationship between sleep and mental health. Lack of sleep can have a negative impact on mental wellbeing, and poor mental health can impact our sleep quality in a negative feedback loop that can make coping with everyday life harder.
If you’re struggling to get to sleep, staying asleep, or waking too early, you may experience the following;
- Poor sleep can make us more likely to feel anxious, irritable, isolated, or depressed
- It can be harder to concentrate on work, studies, or activities like driving
- It can impair our judgement and decision making
- Poor sleep can increase arguments or conflict, affecting our relationships
- Lack of sleep can dull our memory
- Lack of energy, motivation, or engagement with the world around us
- It can make our behaviour erratic
- Increased risk-taking
Why is sleep important for mental health?
The main function of sleep is to recharge our brain and maintain our circadian rhythm, or sleep-wake cycle. Getting the right amount of sleep, and the best quality of sleep is important to our mental health for the following reasons;
- Poor sleep can increase our risk of mental illness
- We feel better after a good night’s sleep
- Sleep maintains our cognitive function, so we’re more capable of solving complex problems or overcoming challenges
- Improves learning
- Regulating our emotions
How does sleep improve our mental health?
Sleep is crucial in regulating and optimising our biological functions, healing, and repairing the body. It improves our mental health by;
- Controlling insulin (blood sugar) levels which are linked to mood
- Supporting healthy growth and development
- Maintaining the immune system and our ability to fight off infection and disease
- Decreasing the risk of health problems that are linked with depression such as obesity and chronic illness
- Improving memory and mental resilience
- Processing stimuli such as events, emotions, sensations
Mental health problems caused by lack of sleep
Sleep problems are recognised as risk factors with mental disorders such as; depression, paranoia, OCD, drug and alcohol abuse, and more.
If you are struggling to cope or experiencing a mental health crisis, speak to your GP, go to A&E, or to speak to someone who can help and is available right now, click here for a comprehensive list of helplines.