Sleep plays a primary role in your overall health, both mental and physical. Research suggests that good sleep helps the body function at its best. Good sleep also enhances concentration and thinking, and improves memory processing. Additionally, quality sleep can have a beneficial impact on mental health, and may be a vital piece to the puzzle in treating many mental health concerns.
How Much Sleep Do You Need?
According to the Sleep Foundation, “adults between 18 and 64 need seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Adults over 65 need 7-8 hours.” Despite these recommendations, over one-third of adults in the United States report sleeping fewer than seven hours per night.
What Happens to Your Brain and Body When You Don’t Sleep Enough
Your body needs sleep to heal and restore the chemical balance in your body and brain. Chronic sleep-deprivation reduces metabolism and blood flow in several regions of the brain. This affects your cognitive abilities, processing speed, decision making, memory, mood, and even emotions.
Researchers have made connections between chronically poor sleep and a number of health problems, including:
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Higher risk of diabetes
- Weakened immune system
- Increased risk of heart disease
- Poor balance and higher risk of falling
- High blood pressure
- Lower sex drive
- Higher risk of having an accident
- Increased mood changes or mood swings
- Problems with memory and increased forgetfulness
- Trouble thinking clearly and difficulty concentrating
- Chronic tiredness and fatigue
Tips for Sleeping Better
Getting enough sleep every night can improve your physical and mental health. If you often sleep less than seven hours per night, try these tips for better sleep.
Stick to a sleep schedule.
Going to bed at about the same time each night and waking around the same time each morning has a tremendous effect. By sticking to a sleep schedule for a few days or weeks, your body can start producing melatonin at the same time each night, making you feel tired at bedtime and helping you achieve a regular sleep schedule.
Limit day-time naps, or eliminate altogether.
Sleeping during the day can make it hard to fall asleep at night, especially if you have a nap too close to bedtime. Long daytime naps can affect your ability to fall asleep, or cause you to wake up repeatedly during the night.
According to a study published in Mental Health and Physical Activity, individuals sleep better when they exercise an average of 20 minutes a day. Exercising in the morning or early afternoon may help you sleep better at night. Avoid exercising too late in the day, since intense exercise can release adrenaline that makes you more alert at bedtime.
Stop drinking caffeine before bedtime.
In one study, participants reported sleeping problems when they consumed caffeine within 3 hours of going to bed. That same study showed that their sleep was also interrupted when they consumed caffeine up to six hours before bed.
Find relaxing activities to do before bedtime.
Relaxing looks different for everyone, so find what works for you. Perhaps it is reading, writing, taking a bath, or doing a short yoga routine. A relaxing activity can ready your body and mind for sleep.
Stop using electronic devices in the evening.
Looking at a screen before bedtime suppresses melatonin, a naturally-occurring sleep hormone. Melatonin signals to your body and brain that it’s time to rest. Without melatonin, you may not feel sleepy, and can have a hard time falling asleep. Using your phone before bed can keep you alert and awake well into the night.
When is it Time to See a Doctor?
If you’ve tried these tips for better sleep and you’re still not sleeping enough, it might be time to go a step further. Everyone experiences poor sleep from time to time, but chronic or continued issues with sleep may indicate a sleeping disorder. You may also be sleeping poorly because of a mental health concern (see: Anxiety so bad you can’t sleep). A clinician or sleep specialist can help you identify the cause of your sleeplessness.
In general, it’s time to see a doctor about your sleep if:
- You are experiencing chronic insomnia
- You have excessive daytime sleepiness
- You snore regularly when you sleep
- You have restless legs when you sleep
- You sleep too much
How Does Sleep Affect Your Mental Health?
Sleep problems can be connected to mental health concerns. Those experiencing anxiety, depression, or another mental health condition often experience poor sleep.
On the flip side, sleep deprivation can negatively affect your mental and emotional state. For example, individuals who have chronic insomnia are more likely to develop mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety. On an acute level, less sleep may also make you feel more impatient, irritable, and prone to mood swings.
Mental Health Treatment
If you are concerned that your mental health may be causing sleeplessness, or that lack of sleep is negatively impacting your mental health, you may decide to contact your healthcare provider. Treatment for mental health difficulties can include psychotherapy and/or medication.
If you and your clinician determine medication is the appropriate treatment method, you may avoid trial and error in finding the appropriate treatment for you by using pharmacogenomics.
Pharmacogenomics examines the role of genetics in your response to drugs. The Genomind Pharmacogenetic test looks at 24 genes related to mental health treatment. This report can help clinicians determine which prescriptions may be more effective and which prescriptions may be more or less tolerated by your body. The report also indicates how you metabolize medications, leading to personalized dosing guidance.
Promote Your Own Health
If you have been dealing with sleeplessness for an extended period, it is time to do something about it. Take the first step by trying one or more at-home strategies for better sleep. If you think there may be other concerns affecting your sleep, it might be time to make an appointment with your clinician and explore how sleep is affecting your body and mind. Improving your sleep can help you manage mental health concerns and improve your overall health and well-being.