Scientists recommend getting at least eight hours of good sleep each night to stay happy and healthy. Mindpath Health’s Zarana Upadhyay, LMHC, explains how sleep deprivation is linked to mental and physical health.

Sleep is essential for building the psychological resilience needed to cope with the many demands of life. Without it, we’re more prone to feelings of emotional unrest, negative thoughts, anxiety, and depression.  

The average adult needs at least seven hours of sleep each night. Teenagers need upwards of 10 hours, and children and infants needs even more. Yet, between 50 million and 70 million adults suffer from chronic sleep disorders. More than 35% of them got fewer than seven hours of sleep per night. 

Persistent sleep deprivation can cause the development of certain disorders and also make them more difficult to treat. Sleep disturbances, for example, are a major symptom of bipolar disorder. It is also common in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and schizophrenia.  

The REM sleep cycle is where the benefits of good, restorative sleep start to take effect. Good REM sleep allows us to regulate emotions and make rational choices. On the flip side, not enough REM sleep can lead to anxiety, memory issues, mood swings, and may suffer from poor decision-making skills. Together, sleep deprivation and mental health disorders feed each other in an endless negative cycle.  

Issues caused by a lack of sleep

A lack of sleep can put extra stress on our nervous system. This stress level is more acute among people with anxiety disorders. Getting back to baseline can be difficult after a stressful event, and this can cause our nervous system to remain in high alert, leading to sleep disruptions. 

This constant anxiety can cause hormone imbalances, particularly in melatonin, the brain’s sleep-inducing hormone. Under stress, the brain works harder to produce the melatonin it needs to get to sleep.  

It can also lead to a state of depression, with feelings like hopelessness, sadness, emptiness, guilt, and anger. The impacts can be felt across our lives and can even suppress our immune systems and cause further physical problems. 

A lack of sleep can cause poor impulse control by hindering our decision-making process. It can lead to nightmares and night terrors, night-time panic attacks, insomnia, and hypersomnia. It can even produce hallucinations and suicidal thoughts. 

Improving your sleep health

The first step to building healthier sleep is setting consistent patterns, such as going to bed at the same time each night. Other tips include:  

  • Ensure your bedroom is dark, quiet, and comfortable.  
  • Remove electronic devices to another room 
  • Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime 
  • Get some exercise. Physical activity during the day can help you fall asleep more easily at night. 

If you continue to struggle with sleep, talk with your physician or mental health clinician to explore the reasons for it. Your symptoms could be linked to an underlying issue that needs attention. 

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