Experts Corner

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN SLEEP AND MENTAL HEALTH, BY A QUALIFIED SLEEP EXPERT

March 11th 2021
The Relationship Between Sleep and Mental Health, By A Qualified Sleep Expert

World Sleep Day is coming up on the 19th March and this year's theme is Regular Sleep, Healthy Future. Here at Ecosa, we’re embracing the day so much we’re making it into a full month! Expect to see a range of sleep health topics covered by our qualified sleep experts, and this week we’ve brought in Sleep Expert Jane Wrigglesworth to tell us about the connection between sleep and mental health. 

You’ve heard the expression ‘waking up on the wrong side of the bed’ – a phrase that’s often applied to people who are irritable, angry or impatient. It turns out it’s not far from the truth. The way you feel has a lot to do with how you’ve slept. Sleep deprivation is linked to a growing number of psychological disorders, with stress, anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder high up the list. Although scientists are yet to determine the exact mechanisms at work, science has proven that sleep and mental health go hand in hand.

How poor sleep affects mental health

Sleep is complex. It involves a cycle of sleep stages (non-REM and REM sleep), with various chemicals and neurotransmitters (nerve-signalling chemicals) aiding the sleep process. The various stages of sleep play a role in neurocognitive responses and, in the case of lack of sleep, neurocognitive vulnerability. It is believed, for instance, that the consolidation of memories and the processing of thoughts and emotions are carried out during REM sleep (the dream stage of our sleep). Without adequate REM sleep, the brain has reduced capacity to process emotional information and to ‘deactivate’ negative emotions. Poor sleep is especially detrimental to the consolidation of positive emotional information. All this results in an altered mood that is linked to mental health issues.

Are genes a factor?

Poor sleep or certain sleep behaviours may be inherited from a parent, with specific gene variants as well as metabolic, behavioural and psychological factors playing a part in the development of sleep disorders, including insomnia. However, although we may be influenced by our genes, that doesn’t mean we cannot change the environment to find a solution.

Very commonly, poor sleep is a result of poor habits (exposure to bright lights before bedtime, over consumption of inflammatory foods, excessive alcohol or drugs, an irregular sleep schedule, etc). If your genetic makeup tends towards a stressed state, a diet high in refined carbohydrates, which affects mood and consequently sleep, should be avoided. Lack of sleep and mental health have a two-way relationship; poor sleep can lead to mental health issues, and mental health issues can lead to poor sleep. 

Get up on the right side of the bed

The world as a whole is largely sleep deprived, with estimates that one in three people don’t get enough sleep.

That doesn’t bode well for our mental health. Chronic sleep deprivation sets the stage for negative thinking and emotional vulnerability. Getting a good night’s sleep is essential to ensuring you don’t wake up on the wrong side of the bed.

About the Author

Jane Wrigglesworth is a certified sleep science coach based in Auckland, New Zealand, but also offers Skype and video conferences for people across the globe. She studied sleep and neurobiology at Michigan University, and natural medicine and nutrition at South Pacific College of Natural Medicine.

She consults with individuals and corporate groups on sleep, providing life-changing information and guidance to a wide array of audiences. She also conducts regular workshops on how to get a good night’s sleep.