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The Connections Between Mental Health and Sleep Patterns – A Study By Harvard

Consistent and adequate sleep is vital to maintaining good physical and mental health. Although experts recommend that most people should get 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night, many Americans get less than 6. Sleep deprivation can be a result of an individual’s work or social schedule, but a number of physiological issues could also cause it. Even mild sleep deprivation can have a significant impact on an individual’s mood and behavior. Those who regularly suffer from sleep deprivation are at risk of developing increased stress, mental fatigue, anxiety, and depression.

The Importance of the Circadian Rhythm

The quality and quantity of a person’s sleep are predominantly governed by the circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is the body’s internal clock that regulates our natural sleep cycle (when you wake up and when you go to sleep). Each person’s natural sleep cycle is unique to them, and most people fall into two different groups. The first group prefers to get up early in the morning and go to sleep early in the evening. 

The second group is those that wake up late in the morning and go to sleep late into the night. Genetics are the main determinant of an individual’s circadian rhythm and, therefore, their preferred sleep cycle. However, with consistent practice and/or medical assistance, it is possible for a person to adjust their circadian rhythm to better align with their work/social life. 

Misalignment of the Circadian Rhythm

It is very important for a person to have a work/social schedule that correlates with their circadian rhythm. Individuals that are unable to do so for whatever reason, health-related or otherwise, are unable to maintain a consistent sleep schedule and may find themselves continually sleep-deprived. Many Americans suffer from sleep deprivation because of a misalignment in their circadian rhythm. 

An irregular work schedule, night shifts, jet lag, and even going to bed later and sleeping in on weekends can all contribute to a misaligned circadian rhythm. Such misalignments can cause a number of health issues besides a lack of sleep. This is because the circadian rhythm has a direct impact and governing influence on multiple important bodily functions, including body temperature, metabolism, digestion, memory, hormone secretion, and wound healing. The overall decline in mental and physical health that is linked to circadian rhythm misalignment can cause severe conditions, including mood disorders, to develop or be exasperated. 

Mood Disorders and Sleep Deprivation

While sleep deprivation can cause a person to develop mood disorders, this rule also works in reverse. Those that are suffering from depression, anxiety disorders, seasonal affective disorder, and bipolar disorder are likely to experience increased difficulty sleeping. This difficulty sleeping may lead to a pattern of irregular and inadequate sleep, eventually resulting in a misalignment of the circadian rhythm. 

Once this occurs, a person may find themselves in a cycle of increasing levels of sleep deprivation along with an increase in the severity of their mood disorder. It is imperative that those experiencing these conditions seek medical attention from experienced mental health experts as soon as possible.

Sleep Hygiene 

There are many ways to improve sleep quality on your own. Below are a few simple steps anyone can take to start on the path to improving their sleep. 

First, try to make your room as dark and quiet as possible; noise and light can contribute to interruptions in the circadian rhythm. Second, try not to use your bed for anything other than sleeping. When the bed is used for things such as watching TV or working on your computer, for example, it can cause the brain to associate going to bed with things other than sleeping, leading to difficulty falling asleep. 

The third thing a person can do to try and improve sleep quality is to stop the use of electronic devices at least one hour before going to bed. This practice is important because the blue light given off by smartphone screens, computers, and tablets can confuse the brain into thinking it’s daylight when it is not, throwing off the body’s natural sleep cycle. 

The energy generated by exercising may also make it difficult to sleep. This is why experts recommend that you stop exercising at least 3 hours before going to bed. Diet also has a major impact on the body’s ability to achieve deep, restful sleep. Individuals should stop eating or drinking products that contain caffeine at least 6 hours before going to bed and not consume alcohol at least 3 hours before sleeping. 

These steps are generally known in the medical community as practicing good sleep hygiene. Taking these steps may help to reduce or eliminate difficulty sleeping. However, if a person continues to struggle with sleep deprivation, they should seek professional medical attention.

When to Seek Medical Attention for Mental Health

If you are still struggling after trying to maintain your mental health on your own, contact Life Adjustment Team. Our team has worked for the last 40 years to get you the best possible treatment and therapy. Learn more today.