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The complex relationship between sleep and mental health

William Shakespeare in one of famous plays addresses sleep as “nature’s soft nurse”. He may have been saying it poetically rather than scientifically, but years of medical research has proved that he could have well been stating a medical fact. It is well-documented fact today that sleep is essential for the upkeep of physical and mental health.

Sleep and mental health

Sleep deprivation not only leaves you irritable and exhausted during the day, but it can also have many serious long-term consequences on your health. For instance, it increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular diseases. Medical research has also established that there is a close relationship between sleep and mental health.

Many mental health conditions including anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder can be triggered due to the lack of adequate sleep. Further if an individual is already battling some mental health conditions, it may be aggravated due to sleep deprivation. Let’s deep dive into the kind of psychological problems that are associated with the lack of sleep.


Life is full of problems, and every day may seem a challenge if you are unable to cope with little sources of annoyances. After a night of tossing and turning in bed, you are so exhausted the next day that you may find it difficult to cope with such daily hassles. Even the smallest of issues may have you launch into a tirade and leave you drained of all your all your energy.

Sometimes that lack of rest may be a cause of stress in itself! For instance, you know that you may have something important to deal at work the next day and know that you need a full night’s rest. But just thinking about it all day stresses you out so much that you are unable to sleep when it is actually bedtime. Minor stress factors therefore begin to snowball into anxiety.


The relationship between sleep and anxiety can go both ways. People suffering from sleep deprivation may have anxiety issues or anxiety issues can lead to sleep deprivation. This cycle perpetuates both sleep and anxiety issues. When sleep issues are left unaddressed, anxiety can increase over the slightest of triggers. For example, those diagnosed with a post-traumatic stress disorder, may work themselves up in a frenzy over a thought or memory that may plague them endlessly at night, robbing them of their capabilities to sleep.


Stress from a traumatic incident in the past can lead to a multitude of sleep problems. When the brain is overstimulated, there are a flood of neurochemicals that rush into the brain making it difficult for an individual to fall asleep. Some common symptoms of trauma include flashbacks and troubling thoughts, restlessness, and violent nightmares that eludes sleep. Overall, the feeling of fear and anxiety keeps the victim awake.

For patients suffering from trauma, the ambience of the room plays a vital role. Caregivers of trauma patients must help create an ambience in the bedroom to make the patient feel safe and rested. The environment should be quiet, cool, and comfortable. A nightlight may help enhance the feeling of safety. It may also help if a family member or friend is close at hand to help soothe and calm the patient during episodes of awakening.


There is a time in the life of every individual when he or she is disappointed, sad or just feeling hopeless. These feelings however last for a short time and do not impact work or relationships. These are healthy reactions to the many challenges of life. However, when these negative feelings persist for weeks and render all other faculties useless, it may hamper one’s ability to even carry out the simplest of daily tasks like getting out of bed and getting dressed. Symptoms such as these are associated with clinical depression and affects nearly 4% of the global population today.

As many people suffering from clinical depression have testified, sleep deprivation and depression go nearly hand in hand. People suffering from depression have troubles falling asleep and remaining asleep at night. Sleep disorders such as insomnia, hypersomnia, and obstructive sleep apnea are associated with depression. Out of these, insomnia seems to have the highest co-relation as 75% of adult patients who suffer from depression seem to have insomnia as well.

Disruption in sleep often disrupt the body’s stress system and hampers circadian rhythms (the body clock that determines the schedule of our daily tasks) thus increasing vulnerability to symptoms of depression. Fortunately, depression once treated can improve quality of sleep.

Treatment of depression varies depending upon its type and severity. Some popular treatments for depression include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), use of antidepressants or brain stimulation therapies. Sometimes one or more of these theories can be used in conjunction simultaneously under the guidance of a therapist.

Coping methods and treatment

As is evident from what we have discussed thus far, sleep has a profound impact on mental health and can induce or aggravate psychological conditions. Coping with this must include inculcating good sleep habits and hygiene.

Sleep and mental health

You can develop some bedtime rituals such as some light exercise or stretching. Meditation too is a tried and tested method to help relax people suffering from psychological conditions. Further, if you suffer from any of the above-mentioned conditions keep away from turning on the news either on the television or on your phone. Ay negative news or commentary make act as a trigger for psychological trauma.

If lifestyle changes and a conscious effort to improve sleep hygiene does not yield the expected results, seek medical help. Timely intervention by a medical health professional can lead you to mechanisms that are easy to implement and effective.

The good news is that most psychological conditions improve or even disappear with the right help and the right time. The first step however is admission of the problem and the willingness to address it. Over time, treatment for psychological can address sleep order issue to a considerable extent.