MIND AT EASE: Adequate Sleep Supports Mental Health


If you have ever had to work a long day without getting enough sleep, you probably know exactly how the lack of sleep affects you. You may feel foggy and lethargic. You may be more clumsy or short-tempered than normal.  In addition, it can be more difficult to cope with stress when you have not had enough rest. Without enough sleep, most of us feel off. Research demonstrates that being deprived of sleep significantly affects mood. Feelings of irritability, anger, frustration, and exhaustion have all been reported by individuals deprived of sleep. It is widely understood that lack of sleep can have an effect on the body, from a compromised immune system and off-kilter metabolism to increased risk of heart disease and poor hormone regulation, but how does it impact mental health? To answer this question, we should first understand something about the role of sleep.

What happens when we sleep?

While we are sleeping, critical housekeeping tasks that promote physical and mental health are taking place within our bodies.  Among these critical functions, are maintenance tasks necessary to support proper brain function. New neural pathways are established while you slumber that enable you to remember things and think more quickly, this facilitates functions as vital as critical thinking, decision-making, emotional control, and creativity.  Sleep enables the creation and consolidation of memories, as well as the synthesis of information. Sleep also allows the brain to store instructions for important motor tasks like the new yoga pose you just learned. Additionally, toxins are removed and physical repairs are made while we are dreaming.

How much sleep is necessary?

Anyone who has spent time with a baby or young child will tell you that their requirements for sleep are far greater than those of an adult. Newborns and babies up to about 15 months of age will sleep between 12-17 hours each day. As children age, they require less sleep. Between ages 1 and 5, a child will sleep about 10-14 hours a day, and this will decrease to about 9-11 hours for school-age children. Teenagers need between 8-10 hours of sleep each night, an amount which decreases to about 7-9 hours when they become young adults and remains in the same range until around the age of 65. Seniors need slightly less sleep, 7-8 hours each night. These ranges are general and cannot pinpoint exact individual needs. While you may need a full 9 hours to feel well-rested, you may discover that your younger sister needs only 7. And while this may frustrate you, it’s quite normal. Each of us has slightly different sleep requirements. To determine how much you need, pay attention to how you feel when you wake and calibrate as necessary.

What happens when we don’t get sufficient rest?

Prolonged sleep deprivation can increase the risk of some health problems, can impact reaction time, and can lead to increased frustration and irritability. Without proper rest, the inability to combat stress and feelings of increased impulsivity are often reported. The bottom line is that sleep problems and chronic insomnia can increase the likelihood of developing a mood disorder like anxiety or depression.  On the other hand, alleviating a sleep disorder can help mitigate symptoms of a mental health problem by allowing the brain to resume necessary functions.

Tips for improved sleep

Make sleep a priority. Have a sleep schedule and stick to it. Make taking care of yourself a priority. Sleep is not a luxury, it is a requirement for optimal health.

Exercise. Regular exercise can help you eliminate excess stress hormones, releasing tension and allowing for a more relaxed state. Studies show that regular movement improves sleep quality.

Turn off electronic devices at least 30 minutes prior to bedtime. Cognitive stimulation can keep us awake and alert when what we really want is to feel relaxed. On top of that, light from electronic devices can trick our brains into thinking it is daytime, shutting down the production of melatonin and making us feel less sleepy.

Caffeine can keep you from sleeping. Avoid drinking beverages that contain caffeine for at least 4 hours prior to bedtime.

Sleep aids. Relaxation techniques can be useful, things like deep breathing and mindfulness meditation can help you get some Zzzzs!

We spend about a third of our lives sleeping, this fact alone is indicative of how critical it is to optimal functioning. Don’t discount the value of sufficient sleep in the maintenance of emotional well-being. Though it may feel like a luxury in our busy lives, sleep is a requirement. Adequate rest is mandatory for optimal functioning.




About Behavioral Health Professionals, Inc.:

Established in 2002 and headquartered in Detroit, Michigan, BHPI is a Managed Behavioral Health Organization offering behavioral health services through a fully integrated network of world-class healthcare providers.  Our emphasis is on adding value for our customers by offering expert behavioral care management, medical coordination, and behavioral disease and chronic behavioral condition management.  BHPI offers collaborative solutions by building strong partnerships with HMOs, Health Systems, Insurance Companies, and Employer groups.  For more information visit: BHPI.org