Sleep Matters: The Surprising Connection Between Sleep and Mental Health

2nd February 2020

Most of us grew up hearing the term “beauty sleep.” We were taught from an early age that how much sleep we get, directly correlates with our physical appearance. What we weren’t taught is that the same is true for our mental health, as well.

A recent study by Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, resulted in some important discoveries about mental health and sleep. Researchers used to believe that insomnia was a symptom of depression. Then, they began digging a little deeper and discovered that actually, depression is a symptom of insomnia.

The study showed that when a person is suffering from insomnia, they’re likely to become depressed due to the lack sleep. More and more, scientists are discovering the significance that sleep loss has on the brain. It can cause an avalanche of mental health issues.

Depression is not the only side effect from insomnia. Other mental health issues that are linked to a lack of sleep, include:

1. Paranoia
2. Anxiety
3. Hallucinatory experiences

This results in our brain functions being greatly impacted by how we sleep, in ways we are still discovering. Just think of a night when you lost a lot of sleep. Maybe you were studying for an exam, taking care of a new baby, or you stayed up all night at a party. Whatever it is, chances are, the next day you were foggy headed and walking around almost like you were in a dream state.

During the study, researches decided to use CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) on only some of the 3,755 students who participated in the study. CBT is a psychological form of treatment that aims to change unhealthy patterns of thinking. It’s been shown to be effective on everything from addiction to eating disorders and yes, even insomnia.

According to the study, “Individuals who received the CBT sleep treatment showed large reductions in insomnia, as well as small, sustained reductions in paranoia and hallucinatory experiences. The treatment also led to improvements in depression, anxiety, nightmares, psychological well-being, and daytime work and home functioning,”

This demonstrates that there is a very important link between the amount of sleep we get at night and how we are able to process our emotions. You can think of rest as time that is desperately needed in order for our mind to quiet itself and learn to reset. Sleep helps our brain prepare itself to be better able to take on whatever stimuli or obstacles it’s confronted with during waking hours.

Professor Daniel Freeman, who led the study, said, “A good night’s sleep really can make a difference to people’s psychological health. Helping people get better sleep could be an important first step in tackling many psychological and emotional problems.”
The way sleep loss can impact mood doesn’t end with depression. Lack of sleep has also been shown to cause things like:

1. Moodiness
2. Irritability
3. Bad temperament

This is because the prefrontal cortex suffers when a person is sleep deprived, causing it to function below what’s expected. This means you’re unable to self-regulate in the way you normally would. A lack of self-regulation leads to blow ups with your friends or co-workers. No matter how hard you try, you’re more likely to simply cave in to your emotions.

It’s difficult to believe that in 2020, the connection between sleep and mental health is still in the early phases of being understood. This is why it’s vital to advocate for yourself. If you’re struggling with insomnia or other sleep disorders, it’s important to discover ways to handle it. Your mental health could depend on it.

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