This week (13 – 19 May) marks Mental Health Awareness Week here in the UK and we thought it was the perfect chance to highlight some of the ways that your sleep can affect mental health.
Mental Health and Body Image
For 2019, Mental Health Awareness week is focusing on Body Image and the many ways that how we perceive ourselves (and how others perceive us) can influence how we feel. Research carried out by the Mental Health Foundation this year discovered that 20% of UK adults felt shame about their body image, 34% felt down and 19% felt disgusted. Others expressed anxiety and depression due to how they look and many said that images in advertising and on social media impacted their body image.
The connection between sleep and mental health
One thing we do know is that stress of any kind (even that around our body) can impact sleep and that a lack of sleep itself can lead to negative mental health. This causes a vicious circle that can be hard to get out of. A study carried out in the US discovered that between 50% and 80% of patients in a typical psychiatric clinic (where mental health problems are treated) had reported sleep issues. This compared to around 18% of adults in the general population.
Often sleep disorders are viewed as a symptom of a mental health condition, but there is also evidence that a lack of sleep can directly contribute to the development of a mental health disorder. It has also been found that fixing sleep disorders can result in the alleviation of mental health conditions. This is possibly because negative thoughts and emotional distress can accompany a lack of sleep.
How sleep influences our mental health
Sleep is thought to influence our mental health in a variety of ways. The main one is that a good sleep pattern that takes us through all of the important sleep cycles will include periods where our heart rate decreases and muscles relax. This is the deepest stage of sleep and is the most restorative for our bodies. Meanwhile the more active states of sleep, such as REM (where we are often dreaming) are thought to help us with processing emotions, learning and memory. Experts believe that disruption to these sleep stages could cause brain disregulation and therefore possible mental health issues in the long term.
This has been backed up by a study carried out in Michigan in 1989. The study looked at 1000 adults and found that those who reported symptoms of insomnia were four times as likely to have developed depression by the time of a second interview three years later. A further twin study discovered that sleep disorders usually developed before depression was diagnosed. It has also been found that people suffering depression alongside sleep disorders are more likely to have suicidal thoughts.
Sleep and mental health go hand in hand
Whether it is a chicken or the egg scenario, it seems that sleep and mental health problems go hand in hand. Further studies have indicated that up to 99% of those suffering with bipolar reported insomnia and 50% of those with anxiety found it difficult to sleep. In many cases the sleep issues preceded the anxiety. ADHD is also known to include problems with falling asleep and is often accompanied by sleep related issues like restless legs, breathing problems and limb movement disorders.
How to help your sleep and your mental health
For anyone suffering with mental health issues, the effects of sleep can be profound and dealing with the sleep disorders may be a great place to start in overall healing and prevention. Some of these tips might offer some relief.
- Try to get your sleep cycle into a normal and natural rhythm. The Sleep Infuser can help with this.
- Think about your consumption of junk foods, nicotine, caffeine intake and alcohol use and try to ensure you are not using these to excess.
- Try to avoid using sleeping tablets, unless carefully monitored by your doctor. They can have a detrimental effect on your natural sleep cycle.
- Get enough exercise, so that you are properly tired when night time comes.
- Use meditation and other relaxation techniques to help you fall asleep.
- If you are visiting your doctor about your mental health, don’t forget to mention if your sleep is being affected. Referrals for cognitive behavioural therapy can be useful in identifying thought patterns that might be making the problem worse. Your doctor may also wish to monitor your sleep to see if there is a link.