The Link Between Mental Health and Sleep

Stephanie Linder, from Community Outreach at Sleep Help shared that the more we learn about sleep, the more we realize how central it is to our overall wellness.

While we all know that sleep plays a big role in our health, the specifics sometimes get lost in the shuffle. As researchers have investigated particular elements of sleep and health, the link with mental health has become increasingly apparent.

Studies have demonstrated a clear connection between mental health and sleep. According to Harvard Health, chronic sleep problems plague between 50% to 80% of mental health patients but only 10% to 18% of adults without mental illnesses.

Sleep issues can include reduced total time spent asleep, fragmented sleep, and sleeping too much, and these problems can be associated with a range of psychiatric conditions.

While the connection between sleep and mental health is undeniable, the exact relationship is complex and still not fully understood. Traditionally, sleep problems were understood as symptoms of mental health conditions, but it appears to not be so simple.

In fact, lack of sleep may be contributing or even causing psychiatric problems. For this reason, a growing number of psychiatrists and therapists are including a focus on improving sleep as a component of their patient care.

In this guide, we’ll explain the background behind this trend including an exploration of the ways that sleep and mental health are related and a discussion of concrete ways to try promoting better sleep.

Why Do Therapists Promote the Importance of Sleep?

Psychiatrists and psychologists work with patients with a diverse set of mental health problems, but a common theme that runs through many of these cases is abnormal sleep.

One way of viewing this connection is by seeing sleep problems as simply a consequence of a psychiatric condition. A more nuanced view of the evidence shows that sleep has a more significant role. For example, in people with depression, unresolved insomnia can increase the likelihood of a major depressive episode.

Enhanced understanding of the brain through neurochemistry and neuroimaging shows that sleep helps build the cognitive power that we need in numerous aspects of life. Limited or fragmented sleep hurts our executive function and emotional resilience.

Understanding the connection between sleep and mental illness as a two-way street opens new avenues for helping patients who struggle with these issues. A patient who is well-rested is generally less likely to suffer from more severe mental health episodes and is more emotionally equipped to take on the challenges that they face.

This doesn’t mean that getting more sleep is a cure for mental illness, but it does explain why a growing number of therapists are integrating sleep considerations into treatments for their patients. their condition, sleep troubles, genetics, environment, and other factors.

What can be clearly stated is that these health issues can complicate each other. Abnormal or disturbed sleep can intensify symptoms or hinder efforts to address mental illness and vice versa.

As a result, an important conclusion is that health care providers must recognize these interrelationships and work with their patients to treat them accordingly.


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