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How Sleep Impacts Mental Health

Sleeping too much or too little?

Is your sleep being interrupted or you simply cannot stay asleep? At some point we all have experienced what it is like to not get a good night’s rest. This can be apparent during the day in many different ways, such as: being irritable or moody; having difficulty concentrating, remembering things, learning, or even completing daily tasks.

Why sleep is important? What happens during sleep?

Adults need about 7-9 hours of sleep. During sleep, the brain goes through 5 stages of sleep. 4 stages are non-rapid eye movement sleep and the last is rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

It begins with the first stage when you are drifting off to sleep. Here, your brain produces alpha and theta waves which soothe you into relaxation and lasts about 5-10 minutes.

During the second stage, brain waves begin to increase drastically, lasting about 20 minutes. This stage is ideal for waking up from a nap, since it will make you feel energized and not groggy.

In stage three and four, also known as deep sleep, the brain begins to produce delta waves. During this stage, the brain undergoes memory processing, growth, and muscle repair.

During the fifth stage, or REM sleep, there is an increase in eye movement. Dreams occur during this stage. The brain processes emotional and learning information from the day and stores important items in long term memory while discarding unwanted information. This stage usually occurs about 5 to 6 times throughout the night.

How can he lack of sleep can affect mental health?

It is important for the brain to go through the five stages of sleep in order to regenerate, process, and filter information. When this process is interrupted or unfulfilled, connections within the brain become severed, impacting your thought processes, mood, and energy.

A mental health problem can affect sleep and in turn, lack of sleep can worsen symptoms due to a mental health problem.

Anxiety disorders can make falling asleep difficult due to the constant hyperarousal from worry or fear.

Depression can lead one to sleep too much, and even experience insomnia.

With bipolar disorder, sleep patterns are constantly changing due to mood change resulting in either getting too much sleep or too little.

Trauma can disrupt the sleep cycle by experiencing flashbacks and night terrors.

Even side effects of medication may also affect your sleep.

It is very important to be able to identify what may be impairing your sleep cycle to determine how to properly improve it.

 Ways to improve sleep

Here are some ways you can start improving your sleep:

1. Environment- Adjust your area to create a relaxing environment by considering temperature, lighting, and noise.

2. Exercise- 10-30 minutes of exercise during the day can improve your sleep.

3. Exposure to natural light- Our bodies have a natural sleep-wake cycle that repeats every 24 hours. Having an exposure to sunlight can help your body maintain this sleep cycle.

4. Avoid screen time- Exposure to screens and artificial light can alter your sleep cycle and stimulate your brain, making it more difficult to wind down.

5. Avoid stimulants- This can include alcohol, caffeine and tobacco.

6. Consistency- Creating a routine such as going to bed and waking up at the same time, reading, meditating, etc., can help your body determine when it is time to start unwinding.

Achieving the five stages of sleep is a natural process that needs to occur in order for us to be able to feel well rested, focused, emotionally stable and be able to properly function throughout the day.

It is important for our brain to have the time to restore, although it may be a challenge knowing that symptoms of some mental health problems may hinder this process.

If this is something that resonates with you or you simply want more information, please feel free to contact our office.

-Karime Aziz, MS, LPC, Associate Supervised by Guillermo Castañeda, LPC-S

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, September 13). Tips for better sleep. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved November 10, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/sleep_hygiene.html

Mental health and sleep. Sleep Foundation. (2022, November 4). Retrieved November 10, 2022, from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/mental-health

YouTube. (2020). How sleep affects your emotions | Sleeping with Science, a TED series. Retrieved November 10, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6F8wFkScnME.

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