Sleep & Mental Health
Monday, February 03, 2020

Getting enough sleep is vital for your mental health. Most people need 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night, the ideal amount being 8 hours.

Living with a mental health problem like depression or anxiety can affect how well you sleep, but likewise, poor sleep can have a negative impact on your mental health, making existing challenges worse.

If you're feeling low, you may not realize that lack of sleep is the culprit. Even small amounts of sleep deprivation over time can chip away at your mood.

Effects of poor sleep on mental health include:

  • Feeling less alert
  • Easily agitated, more irritable
  • Actions may seem slower than usual
  • Harder to cope with everyday challenges
  • Feeling of loneliness
  • Skipping social occasions/isolating oneself
  • Negative impact on self-esteem
  • Poor energy levels
  • Less enthusiasm
  • Feeling persistently sad or empty
  • Low mood
  • Feeling depressed or anxious
  • Negative or irrational thoughts
  • Feelings of worry
  • If you have a psychotic disorder or bipolar disorder, a lack of sleep may trigger mania, psychosis or paranoia, or make existing symptoms worse

Try not to worry if your sleep is disturbed for a short while. This can be perfectly normal. However, if you have been feeling down for a couple of weeks as a result and have been unable to sleep, speak to your GP.

Tips for better sleep

1. Keep active

Regular exercise can help improve your sleep as it makes you more physically tired – particularly if you exercise outdoors - but try to avoid exercise in the hour immediately before bedtime.

2. Avoid stimulants

Avoid tea and coffee, or foods high in sugar, in the evenings.

3. Routine, routine, routine

Try to establish a regular sleeping pattern by going to bed and waking up at roughly the same time every day. Prepare your brain and body for sleep, letting them know it’s time to wind down. Go to bed only when you feel tired enough to sleep. Then get up at your usual time, no matter what.

4. Naps

If possible, avoid naps during the day. This will make it harder to fall asleep at night.

5. Relax

  • Process the day's thoughts and feelings and then let go of them. If it helps, write things down or talk about them with someone you trust. Reading in bed can focus your mind and empty it of the day's worries
  • Your bedroom should be a comfortable temperature. If it's too hot or too cold, it may make it more difficult for you to sleep. Dark, quiet and cool is the perfect combination
  • Do something restful such as gentle stretches or taking a warm bath
  • Deep breathing exercises can help you to relax. Learning meditation is a very useful tool for stilling the mind and relaxing the body
  • The smell of lavender oil also helps. Try sprinkling a few drops on your pillow or into your bath

6. Keep a sleep diary

It can sometimes be hard to work out what's affecting your sleep if the cause isn’t obvious to you. A sleep diary involves recording information about your sleep habits to help you understand your sleep problem and what might be affecting it.

7. Give yourself some screen-free time

Use of bright screens on laptops and phones in the evening has been shown to negatively affect sleep due to the blue light stimulating your brain. Try to give yourself some tech-free time an hour or so before bed.

8. Check for a physical cause

Pain, illness or other unknown physical problems can disturb your sleep. Visit your GP to investigate potential causes and get help with treating them.