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By: Jahed Prince

Adequate sleep is vital for daily functioning. We see the effects of getting less amount of sleep than we’re recommended. We wake up feeling groggy and drag ourselves throughout the day just to make it back home. Some of us repeat this same cycle, not knowing how detrimental it is both short and long-term, especially for their mental health.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us, especially teenagers, have developed unhealthy sleep habits due to being stuck at home. The beginning of the pandemic caused uncertainty and many didn’t have a set schedule. It was hard finding a balance to set a proper sleep schedule, allocate time for our mental health, including time to ourselves. On top of that, accessibility to electronic devices such as, phones, tablets, gaming consoles, and laptops, have deteriorated our sleep schedules. Children and teenagers have grown a fond interest, often cited as an “addiction,” to these devices causing them to neglect their mental health and sleep. It’s important to bring awareness to the effects sleep can have on our health, especially mental health, before the damaging effects of getting inadequate sleep are cemented.

Although research is still ongoing, it is demonstrated that sleep and mental health is a bidirectional relationship, which means one affects the other (Suni, 2022). Mental health illnesses can make it difficult to sleep well, while lack of sleep can initiate or worsen mental health problems. There are proven links to depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and other conditions. An example of the connection between sleep and mental health can be displayed below:

What are the different stages of sleep? And what effect do they have on mental health?

During sleep, brain activity fluctuates, increasing and decreasing throughout the various sleep stages that comprise the sleep cycle. Each stage contributes to brain health by allowing activity in various sections of the brain to ramp up or down, allowing for better thinking, learning, and memory. Adequate sleep, particularly REM sleep, aids the brain's processing of emotional information (Suni, 2022). The brain works during sleep to analyze and store thoughts and memories, and it appears that a lack of sleep is particularly detrimental to the development of positive emotional information. This can affect mood and emotional reactivity and is linked to the severity of mental health conditions.

Also, living with a mental health disorder can affect sleep in lots of ways. For example, anxiety can result in racing or repetitive thoughts, and worries that can keep you awake. Whereas, depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) may make you sleep more, inciting the feeling of wanting to stay in bed longer. It can also cause insomnia, where you have trouble sleeping.

How can we improve our sleep?

Because each person's situation is unique, the best treatment for sleep issues is determined according to the individual. It is crucial to receive proper sleep because it can have a significant impact on quality of life. While treatment plans can vary greatly, generally, improving sleep habits can go a long way. Poor sleep hygiene is a common cause of sleeping problems. Improving sleep hygiene by cultivating healthy sleep habits and a sleep-friendly bedroom environment can have a huge impact in acquiring proper sleep. It’s also important that mental health issues are addressed because it may be a significant reason why sleep may be getting lost.

Tips for Healthy Sleep:

  1. Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule and having a set bedtime.

2. Finding ways to unwind, such as through relaxation techniques, as part of a regular bedtime routine.

3. In the evening, avoid alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine.

4. Dimming lights and putting electronic devices away for an hour or more before going to bed.

5. Regular exercise and exposure to natural light during the day.

6. Reducing excess light and sound that may interrupt your sleep.

It’s important that we consider ongoing factors that may possibly affect sleep, such as the pandemic, previously mentioned, to address sleep issues. Economic status, employment status, and different age demographics can also influence sleep. ​​Sleep and mental health are both issues that all demographics must be informed on because there is so much information regarding these two topics, as well as their connection. Following healthy sleep habits and being informed on how adequate sleep can be beneficial to mental health can go a long way.


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