10 Facts You Might Not Know About Sleep and Mental Health

May 23, 2017

The relationship between sleep & mental health

If you’ve ever felt drowsy or “zoned out” in class or at work, then you’re already aware of how important a good night’s sleep can be. What you might not know, however, is that sleep isn’t just important for helping you get through those dreaded Monday mornings, but it’s essential for your mental health too.

America is sleep-deprived, to say the least. Around 40 million people per year suffer from chronic, long-term sleep disorders and an additional 20 million experience occasional sleep issues.1 Poor sleep habits have been linked to problems like depression and anxiety, increased risk for heart disease and cancer, memory issues, reduced immune system, and weight gain.2 It’s no wonder sleep issues account for an estimated $16 billion in medical costs each year.3 That doesn’t even include indirect costs due to lost productivity.

1. Sleep deprivation impairs our ability to think clearly:

REM (rapid eye movement) sleep – the deepest stage of the sleep cycle, stimulates the brain regions used in learning. One study shows that REM sleep affects the learning of certain skills. Those involved in the study were taught a skill and then deprived of REM sleep resulting in lack of recall of what they had learned. Conversely, those that had full REM sleep easily recalled what they had learned.4 Essentially, when deep sleep is disrupted, it wreaks havoc on our brains and impairs our ability to think clearly and remember things.

2. Driver fatigue can be as dangerous as driving intoxicated:

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration,5 driver fatigue is responsible for about 100,000 motor vehicle accidents and 1,500 deaths every year. Sleep deprivation is not only bad for your mind and body, but in some cases, can also endanger the lives of others. A study that tested people using a driving simulator showed that sleep-deprived people drove as badly or worse than someone who is intoxicated.6 Sleep deprivation also magnifies the effects of alcohol on the body, so a drowsy person who drinks will be even further impaired than a well-rested person who drinks.

3. Doctors have described more than 70 different types of sleep disorders:

The most common ones are: insomnia (difficulty falling or staying asleep), sleep apnea (obstructed breathing that causes multiple awakenings), restless leg syndrome (prompts night fidgeting and impairs quality of sleep), and narcolepsy (falling asleep suddenly during the day).7

4. Sleep concerns may be more likely to affect those with existing mental health conditions:

Once upon a time, sleep problems were thought of as just symptoms of mental health conditions, but now research tells us they may contribute to or even be a cause of them.8 This also means that treating the sleep disorder may help alleviate the symptoms associated with a mental health condition and vice versa. It is worth noting that chronic sleep problems affect about 50 to 80 percent of those with psychiatric conditions and 10 to 18 percent of adults in the general U.S. population.9

5. There are many symptoms associated with sleep deprivation:

Experts say that if you consistently feel drowsy during the day or experience microsleepsthen you may have severe sleep deprivation or even a sleep disorder.10 Other signs of sleep deficit are: constant tiredness, habitually using caffeine to get through the day, not waking up refreshed, drowsiness while driving or during mundane activities like watching TV, memory problems, waking up too early and difficulty falling or staying asleep.11

6. Trouble sleeping is a symptom of depression:

Studies estimate that 65 to 90 percent of adults (and about 90 percent of children) with clinical depression experience some form of sleep concerns.12 Most commonly, it’s insomnia, but 1 in 5 suffer from sleep apnea. Hypersomnia (excessive tiredness during the day) is also common among people with depression. Sleep problems are not only a symptom of depression, but also a contributor to it.

7. Anxiety and sleep concerns are frequently present together:

Sleep concerns affect more than 50% of adults with generalized anxiety disorder and are also common among those with post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and phobic disorders.13 Anxiety also contributes to disrupted sleep, often in the form of insomnia or nightmares. Sleep deprivation also elevates the risk for anxiety disorders — yet another chicken and egg situation between sleep problems and other mental health conditions.

8. Sleep concerns are associated with ADHD in both children and adults:

Various sleep problems affect 25 to 50 percent of children with ADHD — the more common conditions are daytime tiredness and sleep-disordered breathing.14 For adults with ADHD, the typical issues are difficulty falling asleep, shorter sleep duration and restless slumber. For both children and adults, the symptoms of ADHD and sleep problems overlap so much that it may be difficult to tell them apart.

9. Sleep quality may improve with good bedtime habits:15

Some tips to combat poor sleep are:

  • Follow a regular bedtime and wake up time (because your body craves the consistency)
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine close to bedtime,
  • Exercise during the day, as well as get regular exposure to natural light
  • Meditation
  • Use the bedroom only for sleep (not for work or using electronics, so that your brain doesn’t associate your bed as a place of busy activity)

10. Treatment for insomnia isn’t as simple as curing it with prescription sleep aids:

While doctors usually prescribe sleeping pills for short-term insomnia, long-term use can lower the pills’ effectiveness.16 If you are experiencing sleep concerns and would like to explore a drug-free, non-invasive option, neurofeedback may be an alternative worth exploring.

Allowing yourself to get a good amount of shuteye on a regular basis not only restores your body, but your mind too.  The power of sleep and its relationship with your mental wellbeing is more vital than ever in today’s busy, restless culture. Understanding how one affects the other not only helps in getting the most accurate diagnoses, but also aids in improved treatments for both conditions.

Education and awareness are essentials in understanding mental health and the importance of rest.  If you or anyone you know is exhibiting signs of a sleep disorder or a mental condition, encourage them to seek help. Together, we can raise awareness about mental health and help end the stigma.

Want to learn more about Sleep?


1 “Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep.” National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, n.d. Web. 23 May 2017.
2 “Get Enough Sleep.” Mental Health America. N.p., 04 Feb. 2014. Web. 23 May 2017.
3 “Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep.” National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, n.d. Web. 23 May 2017.
4 Publications, Harvard Health. “Sleep and mental health.” Harvard Health. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 May 2017.
5“Facts and Stats.” Drowsy Driving Stay Alert Arrive Alive RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 May 2017.
6 “Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep.” National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, n.d. Web. 23 May 2017.
7 Publications, Harvard Health. “Sleep and mental health.” Harvard Health. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 May 2017.
8 Publications, Harvard Health. “Sleep and mental health.” Harvard Health. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 May 2017.
9 Publications, Harvard Health. “Sleep and mental health.” Harvard Health. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 May 2017.
10 “Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep.” National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, n.d. Web. 23 May 2017.
11 “Get Enough Sleep.” Mental Health America. N.p., 04 Feb. 2014. Web. 23 May 2017.
12 Publications, Harvard Health. “Sleep and mental health.” Harvard Health. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 May 2017.
13 Publications, Harvard Health. “Sleep and mental health.” Harvard Health. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 May 2017.
14 Publications, Harvard Health. “Sleep and mental health.” Harvard Health. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 May 2017.
15 “Get Enough Sleep.” Mental Health America. N.p., 04 Feb. 2014. Web. 23 May 2017.
16 “Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep.” National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, n.d. Web. 23 May 2017.