How Does Sleep Affect Mental Health?

Many individuals experiencing mental health challenges also suffer from sleeping difficulties. Although researchers once thought that insomnia was caused by their conditions, recent evidence shows otherwise and suggests that improving one’s sleeping patterns can actually help mitigate some symptoms associated with them.

Scientists are still discovering how essential sleep is for our physical and emotional well-being, but one thing is clear: adequate restful slumber is crucial to good mental wellbeing.


Though many believe mental health conditions like depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder make sleep worse, research indicates otherwise. Poor sleeping patterns may actually contribute to these conditions and interventions that enhance sleeping patterns are associated with improved mental wellbeing.

Sleeplessness or poor quality rest can contribute to various mental disorders, including depression and anxiety, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and psychotic symptoms such as delusions or hallucinations. A lack of rest also increases risk for psychotic reactions like delusions or hallucinations.

Studies demonstrate the vital importance of sleep to brain functioning. Sleep helps convert short-term memories to long-term memories and clears waste out of the glymphatic system, which could otherwise accumulate and interfere with regular brain processes. Furthermore, those who get less sleep have lower brain volumes in areas related to emotion regulation and mood regulation.


Anxiety affects people differently; those living with it experience feelings of restlessness, tension and fearfulness as well as physical symptoms like chest pain or rapid heartbeat. Anxiety is part of our “fight or flight” response system which helps us navigate dangerous situations successfully – however when its manifestation becomes persistent or severe enough that it interferes with everyday activities it can become a mental health problem.

Sleep can help ease anxiety. According to researchers, this may be because sleeping reduces neurotransmitter levels that send messages between your brain and nervous system, encouraging wakefulness.

It is crucial to seek assistance for anxiety if it interferes with your daily life. Talking with a physician or therapist can provide tips to improve sleep and lower anxiety, such as exercising, practicing mindfulness, eating healthily and using relaxation techniques. They might even suggest over-the-counter or prescription sleep aids; chronic lack of sleep has been shown to contribute to obesity, poor immune function, heart disease and depression – making professional help vitally important.

Bipolar disorder

People living with bipolar disorder experience severe fluctuations in their emotions, energy levels and ability to think clearly. Their states of high and low mood, known as mania or depression respectively, typically last several days or weeks at a time and differ significantly from the typical ups-and-downs most people experience.

Bipolar disorder sufferers experience manic episodes as feeling overly happy, confident and energetic. They may make ambitious plans, spend money recklessly or act impulsively. Delusions or hallucinations such as seeing or hearing things that don’t exist could also occur during these times of mania.

Effective treatment for bipolar disorder often entails long-term medication and psychotherapy. It’s crucial for individuals with bipolar disorder to remain on their medication even during periods where they feel good; tracking symptoms through a journal can also be invaluable in helping identify patterns or triggers, such as changes in sleep pattern. Alcohol or drugs should also be avoided since these can worsen both mania and depression symptoms.

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder

Lack of sleep has been linked with depression, anxiety and impulsiveness as well as worsening symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Studies have also demonstrated that individuals who sleep less than eight hours each night tend to have lower gray matter levels in certain parts of the brain that regulate memory, emotion and decision-making compared with people who get adequate amounts. Furthermore, MRI studies have demonstrated how insufficient restful sleep can lead to hallucinations and paranoia among those already struggling with mental health conditions.

CBTi interventions, in particular, have been demonstrated to significantly improve both mental health and physical well-being. Yet more research with reduced risks of methodological bias needs to be conducted in order to ascertain whether these effects persist over time and among individuals with both physical and mental health conditions.

Notably, poor sleep can often precede any diagnosis of mental illness; specifically, sleep disruption is common among individuals at risk for depression, childhood-onset schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

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