We have all been guilty of taking a good night’s sleep for granted. However, what we may not realize is how harmful poor sleeping habits can be to our everyday lives and mental well-being.
Many people overlook how sleep hygiene and mental health are often directly related to each other. In this blog, we’ll review the importance of sleep, and how it’s related to your mental health, and offer easy ways to begin improving your sleeping habits.
The Importance of Sleep
The first step to understanding the relationship between sleep hygiene and mental health is understanding the overall importance of sleep.
As you sleep, your brain activity increases and decreases, making up the sleep cycle. Each stage of sleep plays a vital role in brain health and development. By allowing activity in different parts of the brain to ramp up or down, sleep enables better thinking, learning, and memory.
There are many benefits to being properly rested. Research has found that sleep is critically linked to attention and concentration. In addition, your creativity, development of insight, and pattern recognition are both strongly influenced by the number of hours of sleep you get each night.
Your everyday performance is also linked to your sleep habits. Studies have shown that a person receiving an average of 7.5 hours of sleep per night tends to have reaction times that are two to three times faster than those who are sleep deprived.
Researchers have also found that sleep hygiene and mental health have a direct line of relation. Over the years, studies have uncovered that brain activity during sleep has profound effects on your emotional and mental health.
Sleep is important for everyone, however, researchers have seen that college students are one of the most at-risk age groups for sleep deprivation. With the overwhelming responsibilities of school, work, and other social activities, college students struggle to find adequate sleep throughout their years away at school.
The Link Between Sleep and Mental Health
Can a lack of sleep cause anxiety and/or depression? The answer is yes. Sufficient sleep, especially during your REM cycle, facilitates your brain’s processing of emotional information. A lack of sleep can be especially harmful to the consolidation of positive emotional content. This is why rest is tied to your emotional reactivity and mental health.
A study claimed that a person receiving inadequate sleep is 17 times more likely to experience symptoms of anxiety. Furthermore, poor sleep also raises the risk of suicidal behavior. A study of nonfatal suicide attempts shared that 92% of survivors reported difficulties with insomnia, and 89% reported issues with sleep disturbances.
The Link Between Sleep and Mood Regulation
Sleep and mood regulation have been linked both ways. Getting adequate sleep can directly affect your mood, but in the same sense, your mood can directly affect getting an adequate amount of sleep.
For instance, if you are suffering from sleep deprivation, you’re more likely to experience symptoms of anxiety and depression. However, if you are someone who suffers from anxiety and depression already, you may have a difficult time receiving a sufficient amount of sleep.
Many studies have shown that people who don’t have a history of mood disorders can still suffer from lack of sleep, causing them to be angry, irritable, frustrated, and sad. This dangerous cycle will continue to repeat itself if you don’t learn how to get a better sleep schedule, which we will guide you through below.
Sleep Deprivation Effects on the Brain
There are numerous disadvantages to sleeping deprivation. Many people understand the value of sleep, but they don’t realize the effects a lack of sleep can have on their brains. This is especially true when it comes to young adults in college.
Studies have shown that college students who suffer from lack of sleep, due to workload and social obligations, are more likely to show symptoms of sleep deprivation. Researchers have done studies that confirm that sleep deprivation impacts the following cognitive processes:
- Slows down your thought processes. A lack of sleep lowers your alertness and concentration. It becomes harder for you to focus and perform tasks that require local reasoning or complex thought.
- Impairs your judgment. Being drowsy makes decision-making more difficult because you can’t properly assess situations and choose the correct behaviors or responses.
- Impairs your memory. The nerve connections that make our memories are strengthened during sleep. When you deprive your body of the proper sleep, you’re not allowing those nerve connections an adequate amount of time to strengthen, especially when it comes to short-term memories. This means that the things you have experienced or learned that day are more likely to be forgotten.
- Makes learning more difficult. Since sleep affects your concentration and memory, a lack of sleep causes you to have a harder time consuming and retaining information. It can also cause more stress on your mind and body, making it much more difficult to remain focused and attentive.
- Causes slow reaction time. This disadvantage can be seen as the most dangerous especially when you are driving or your work requires you to act quickly on your feet.
How to Get More Sleep: 6 Ways to Improve Your Sleeping Habits
Improving your sleep hygiene and mental health can greatly increase your quality of life. Some people, especially young adults, don’t think that proper sleep is necessary for them to tackle their everyday tasks and responsibilities.
What they don’t know is that understanding how to get more sleep is often the first step to living a healthier and happier life. Below, we’ve offered 6 ways you can begin working on your sleep hygiene.
1. Follow a Consistent Sleep Routine
Having a consistent sleep schedule is key to improving your sleep habits. You should start by waking up at the same time every day, and that includes weekends. Maintaining a reasonably consistent early awakening time is one of the very important time cues for your 24-hour Circadian Rhythm.
Setting a bedtime in addition to an awakening time can also help establish a sleep routine. Research claims that the ideal time to go to sleep every night is about 10 PM. Keep in mind, if your current sleep schedule is irregular, it may take some time to adjust to a new routine, but in about 1-2 weeks you should feel comfortable with your new sleeping habits.
2. Don’t Take Naps
Napping during the day can disrupt your sleep-wake cycle. Researchers have discovered that taking long naps during the day can actually be linked to certain health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and depression. Most of the time, drowsiness during the day is a sign that you aren’t receiving enough sleep at night.
If you must take naps during the day, there are certain steps you can take to make sure it doesn’t interfere too much with your sleep schedule. For example, your nap should not exceed more than 15-20 minutes and should take place in the early afternoon.
3. Pay Attention to What You’re Eating & Drinking
Certain foods and drinks act as stimulants and can deter your healthy sleeping habits. Things such as caffeine and alcohol can actually make falling asleep and staying asleep harder.
If you’re going to drink coffee or consume caffeine you should do so at least 4 hours before your bedtime. Alcohol may make you sleepy and fall asleep quicker, but it actually can play a key role in disturbing your REM sleep cycle, making you more likely to be drowsy in the morning. When consuming alcohol, you should not do so at least 2 hours before bed.
While it may not necessarily fall under the category of food or drink, nicotine and tobacco are other culprits in messing up your sleep habits. These can both act as a stimulant as well and should be avoided at least 2 hours before bed.
4. Create a Good Sleep Environment
It’s almost impossible to get a good night’s sleep if you’re not comfortable. Creating a good sleep environment may seem obvious, but it plays a critical role in adopting healthy sleeping habits. There are a few best practices you can follow when establishing a peaceful sleeping environment for yourself.
One of the first things you should do is stay off any electronic device at least 30 minutes before you close your eyes for the night. The light from electronic devices such as phones, laptops, tablets, and TVs can interfere with your ability to fall asleep. If you’re not tired when you lay down for the night, try reading or meditating instead of scrolling through your phone.
You should also make sure your room is dark. When you’re in a darker environment, your body subconsciously starts to believe it’s time to sleep. Some people prefer silence while others appreciate white noise. If you’re someone who doesn’t like the silence, think about investing in a noise machine.
Finally, determine the temperature that you find the most comfortable. Everyone is different, some may enjoy a colder room while others prefer heat. Either way, adjust the temperature before you go to sleep, that way you won’t wake up shivering or sweating.
5. Establish a Nightly Routine
Humans are creatures of habit, which is why establishing a nightly routine can increase your chances of getting a good night’s sleep. Whether it’s a skincare routine, a meditation practice, or journaling in your notebook, finding the best ways for you to unwind can help get your mind and body ready for bed.
Your nightly routine doesn’t have to be something extravagant. As long as you remain consistent with what you’re doing right before bed you can adopt almost anything to help you relax before you turn the lights out.
6. Stay Active
You may already know that staying active and exercising can greatly improve your overall mental health, but it can also improve your sleep hygiene. Making sure you’re being active for at least 30 minutes to an hour each day will help you to fall asleep each night.
If you’re laying or sitting down most of the day, your body is remaining in a state of rest. When you get your heart rate up, your body will be ready to recoup for the next day while you’re asleep.
There are many things you can do to practice healthy sleeping habits on your own, but if you are someone who continues to struggle with a sleeping disorder, you should consider seeking professional help. If you have concerns or questions about your sleeping habits you can ask your physician or mental health professional.
Learning about sleep hygiene and mental health is important for everyone, even those who don’t have prior mental health or behavioral disorders because they are often directly related to each other.