Sleep requirements vary among people depending on a myriad of factors, most notably age. For most adults, the recommended sleep time is anywhere from seven to nine hours. Scheduling for adequate amounts of sleep is just as important as planning for any other daily activity. However, scheduling sufficient sleep is becoming more of a challenge.
As people get busier, the average day seems a lot shorter. Suddenly, 24 hours isn’t enough. The easiest solution is to cut back on the hours typically meant for sleep. That might seem like an ideal solution, but cutting back on sleep has some profound long-term effects.
What Sleep Deprivation Means for the Body
Chronic fatigue, a lack of focus, or a short fuse are a few effects of insufficient sleep. The occasional night without sleep won’t do much harm to your health, but prolonged periods without adequate amounts of sleep often have dire consequences.
Sleep deprivation drains your mental faculties while also putting your physical health at risk. Issues such as weight gain, high blood pressure, and a weakened immune system start to creep in. And it’s not just your physical health that’s at risk. Mental wellbeing is also affected, as the brain lacks the right amount of rest to maintain optimal functioning.
Linking Sleep with Mental Health
The connection between sleep and mental health is pretty close. It’s common practice for clinicians who are treating patients with psychiatric disorders to view insomnia as a symptom. Studies in both children and adults suggest that sleep problems may directly contribute to or increase the risk of some psychiatric disorders.
Getting a better grasp of how sleep impacts mental health requires a look at the normal sleep cycles. After approximately one and a half hours, normal sleepers cycle between two types of sleep, quiet sleep, and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. When a person experiences quiet sleep, the muscles relax, body temperature decreases, and breathing and heart rates slow, while during REM sleep, those same bodily parameters increase. Several studies show that REM sleep improves learning and content retention, as well as contributing to mental health.
It’s now clear that disruption of sleep affects REM sleep by interfering with levels of stress hormones and neurotransmitters. This disruption wreaks havoc on the brain by impairing emotional and cognitive regulation. That’s why a continued lack of sleep creates or amplifies mental disorders.
Mental Disorders Associated with Reduced Sleep
More than 50% of adults who report reduced sleep suffer from an anxiety disorder. The situation gets worse in patients who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which may result in panic disorders, phobias, or obsessive-compulsive disorders. Insomnia may worsen symptoms of anxiety disorders or hinder effective recovery.
Sleep deprivation and depression are also complementary. Some studies that were done on patients with depression estimated that between 65 and 90% of them experience some sleep disorder. Insomnia and, to an extent, sleep apnea increase the chances of developing depression. A 1989 study in Michigan done on 1,000 patients compared normal sleepers to people who have insomnia. The study found that people who had a history of insomnia were four times more likely to develop major depression by the time of a subsequent interview a few years later.
3. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
One in four children who have ADHD also suffer from sleep problems. Difficulty in falling asleep, restless nights, and shorter sleep durations are all linked to ADHD patients. Children with sleeping disorders may often become hyperactive or emotionally volatile, even when they don’t meet the diagnostic standards for ADHD.
Overcoming the Issue
When it comes to sleep, it’s not just a matter of quantity but also the quality of sleep. Certain factors can help improve the quality of sleep for overall better mental health.
1. Better Sleep Hygiene
The term sleep hygiene is commonly used to describe how environmental factors and lifestyle can affect the quality of sleep. Substances such as nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol are all substances that threaten the quality of sleep and should be avoided. It’s also important to eliminate distractions such as unnecessary electronics to allow for more relaxation in the bedroom. Too much noise or light might be the perfect recipe for a sleepless night.
2. Increased Daytime Physical Activity
A sedentary lifestyle isn’t doing your body or your mind any favors. Even moderate aerobic activities such as walking boost the level of nourishing deep sleep the body gets. Aerobic exercise also releases endorphins for better overall mental wellbeing. Exercise has also been found to lower insomnia by lowering arousal, anxiety, and depressive symptoms among patients.
3. Melatonin Supplements
Melatonin is a natural compound that the body produces to help in the process of falling asleep. For a lot of people who suffer from sleep deprivation, mainly due to insomnia, increasing melatonin levels is a great way to achieve better sleep quality. Melatonin, which can be purchased individually or in a custom supplement blend, is commonly used for people with insomnia to help induce sleep quicker. Relaxation before bed and low light levels help achieve optimal results.
4. Soothing Drinks
Certain drinks such as chamomile tea or tart cherry juice are often recommended for patients with sleep trouble. Warm milk has also been associated with some chemicals that simulate the effects of tryptophan (an essential building block for serotonin) on the brain. Chamomile tea, unlike green tea, lacks caffeine while possessing flavonoids that have sedative effects.
A lack of sufficient amounts of sleep has a significant link to people’s mental wellbeing. Sleep issues such as insomnia may create or exacerbate mental conditions such as anxiety, depression, or even ADHD. Quality sleep might not be the perfect panacea for all mental health conditions, but it is a step in the right direction.