There was a time when acclaimed scientific experts led us to believe that sleep disorders were a result of mental health issues. But new research into this field has revealed that this may not be the whole story. Recent studies have found that sleep disorders may be working as triggers that actually work to elevate the risk of developing mental health issues, not necessarily the other way around. While the reason sleep disorders may trigger these issues is still up for debate amongst experts, the fact that there is a connection is undeniable.
Every 90 minutes, a typical person’s sleep pattern cycles between two major stages of rest – REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM sleep. The length of time spent in one or the other changes as sleep progresses. Each of these stages of sleep benefits the mind of a healthy individual. For example, REM sleep helps our brain to improve our learning skills, memory, and overall emotional health. When this type of sleep is affected in any way, our neurotransmitters and stress hormones (cortisol) are also disrupted.
Suffice it to say, this disruption can aggravate any symptoms or mental health conditions that already exist within an individual, and vice versa. The stakes are daunting for some, and these disruptions can be alarming enough that it becomes incredibly important to recognize and sort out sleep problems as soon as they are identified.
Let’s discuss some of the most common causes of sleep deprivation and how it impacts your mental health.
Sleep Deprivation Causes
Sleep deprivation can occur for a multitude of reasons. It is often the result of the more obvious ailments and sleep disorders. Sometimes, it’s the result of more general things, such as aging or a recent schedule change. Figuring out the causal factors is the first major step in getting a handle on this condition.
Regardless of how much or to what degree we experience it, stress affects the nervous system. People who suffer from anxiety disorders experience stress at a more acute level, and regardless of the cause, their nervous system is forced to stay alert at all times – the direct opposite of the mindset necessary to fall asleep. In these cases, the body releases cortisol, the stress hormone. It works as an antagonist for melatonin, which is the hormone responsible for inducing sleep. This can potentially cause a hormonal imbalance. When we experience more stress, it’s tougher for our brains to produce sufficient amounts of melatonin.
Sleep deprivation may cause minor symptoms like drowsiness, impaired memory, inability to concentrate, reduced stamina, and more. But over a long period of time, these symptoms can become more serious.
Sleep deprivation symptoms can escalate in severity and lead to potentially life-threatening complications. Also, a prolonged lack of sleep increases the risk of more serious diseases. Severe sleep deprivation can even cause hallucinations and severe mood swings.
Tips to Start a Healthy Sleep Routine
- Practicing a good sleep routine can make a huge difference in your quality of life, often more so than one would imagine. While we may not always be able to control the factors that deprive us of our sleep, you can adopt habits that encourage better sleep. Give these simple tips a try:
Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on the weekends. Leaving a little bit of wiggle room is okay, but try not to exceed more than an hour in the difference between your usual sleep schedule. Being consistent helps reinforce your body’s internal clock.
- Participating in regular physical activity can help to enhance your sleep routine. By exercising and working out, you can exert yourself in a more active way that helps stimulate sleep. However, try to avoid being too active close to bedtime. Try to finish your workouts no later than 3 hours from bedtime. Do not exercise at the expense of your sleep.
- Before you go to bed, avoid stimulants or and other substances like caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol. These compounds can alter and disrupt your regular sleep patterns. Also, try not to eat a heavy meal before bed. Eating heavy or spicy meals before you go to sleep can cause discomfort due to indigestion, which can make it more difficult to fall and stay asleep. Try and lay off large meals at least 2-3 hours before bedtime.
- Create an environment that is ideal for promoting sleep. This means keeping your bedroom as cool, dark, and quiet as possible. Your bedroom should be free from any noise that can disturb your sleep. Limit the light in your bedroom as well. Exposure to light can inhibit your ability to fall asleep, so avoid prolonged use of light-emitting screens before bedtime as well. If achieving darkness or quiet is proving difficult because of environmental factors, consider using eyeshades, earplugs, blackout curtains, a fan, or other devices that can assist you in creating an environment that suits your needs.
- Practice stress management techniques. This can include meditation, guided imagery, deep breathing exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation to help combat sleep-related anxiety and relax your mind and body in preparation for sleep.
- Try and avoid daytime naps. Taking a long daytime nap may sound appealing, especially for those who may already be sleep deprived. But daytime naps can interfere with nighttime sleep. If a short catnap is unavoidable, try to limit it to about 30 minutes and avoid doing so later in the day (closer to your usual bedtime).
- Use a sleep supplement to help you fall asleep quicker.
Sleep deprivation is an issue that plagues millions of people worldwide, and its effects on our mental health can be profound. Achieving optimal sleep is not only a means to achieve rest and peace of mind, but also a way to cultivate a healthy mental and emotional state. If you’re still having trouble sleeping after exercising the measures outlined above, don’t hesitate to consult with your doctor or find a sleep professional to assist you in addressing your needs.