Man laying in bed struggling to get to sleep

Sleep and why it is important for your mental health

How sleep can affect your mental and physical health

Do you have trouble getting to sleep, staying asleep or simply being able to sleep? You’re not alone.

In fact, up to 40% of Australians may be suffering from poor sleep, according to an inquiry on Sleep Health Awareness in Australia. Chronic sleep symptoms (e.g. trouble falling asleep, waking up too early), can affect our ability to live a healthy, happy life.

So, if fatigue, irritability, inability to concentrate or especially if a lack of shut eye is making you feel anxious or stressed – read on.

 

Why sleep is important

Most Australians sleep for between seven and eight hours a night, and the recommended amount for 18 to 64 year olds is seven to nine hours, according Australia’s Sleep Health Foundation.

Your mental health, physical health, quality of life and safety is reliant on you getting enough of it. This is because during sleep your body works to support healthy brain function and maintain your physical wellbeing.

The best way to think of it – sleep is just as important as a healthy diet and exercise.

If you don’t get enough, your body’s biological processes become disrupted. The damage from sleep deficiency can occur in an instant, or it can cause harm over time. For example, ongoing sleep deficiency can raise your risk for some chronic health problems such as obesity, heart disease, kidney disease, stroke and diabetes. It can also affect how your brain works, including how well you think, react, work, learn and get along with others, reports the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

 

Links between sleep and mental health

It is natural to be experiencing sleep difficulties. Fear, anxiety, isolation, greater family and work stress can all contribute to poor sleep.

Harvard Medical School reports, sleep deprivation affects your psychological state and mental health – and, those with mental health concerns are more likely to have insomnia or other sleep disorders.

Scientists have also discovered that sleep disruption affects levels of neurotransmitters and stress hormones in your brain, which may impair your emotional regulation.

Depression

Studies using different methods and populations estimate that 65 to 90 per cent of adult patients with major depression, experience some kind of sleep problem.

Anxiety disorders

Sleep problems may also affect people with generalised anxiety disorder, particularly those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and may occur in panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and phobias.

 

11 ways to improve your sleep

Stepping in early, if you think a sleep issue is developing – particularly if it’s affecting your mental health – is important. Treating a sleep disorder may help alleviate symptoms of a mental health problem.

  1. Talk to your GP, a sleep specialist or psychologist who have a detailed understanding of sleep factors and the links to mental health.
  2. Try going to sleep and waking up at the same time each day.
  3. Get regular exercise, but not too close to bedtime. Experts recommend allowing at least three hours between exercise and bed.
  4. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine before going to sleep.
  5. Take time to unwind at night with a warm bath, reading a book, drinking some caffeine-free tea and avoiding any activities that can cause tension.
  6. Finish eating two to three hours before going to bed.
  7. Create a sleeping environment that is dark, cool and comfortable.
  8. Try to avoid looking at the time if you cannot fall asleep, this can heighten anxiety.
  9. Try using relaxing sleep music or another type of white noise to block out unwanted sounds.
  10. Avoid all screens while in bed.
  11. Try relaxation techniques such as meditation and deep breathing exercises.

There’s no doubt sleep is vital for maintaining your physical and mental health. But remember, there are many others who also find sleep difficult and you’re not alone if you seek help for ways to sleep better.

 

Further reading if you are thinking about suicide

 

Don’t let it build up. SuicideLine Victoria is a free 24/7 telephone and online counselling service offering professional support to people who are concerned about their emotional and mental health. Call 1300 651 251. If it is an emergency, call 000.