Sleep and mental health

Why it’s important to get a good night’s sleep

The connections between sleep and mental health have been clear for some time. Getting a good night’s sleep is a vital part of maintaining not only a healthy body, but also a healthy mind. Sleep allows the body as well as the mind to recover from the day’s exertions. If sleep is disturbed, the mind is unable to recover fully, you feel tired and sluggish the next day and, if you are already suffering from a mental health condition, recovery is made all the more difficult causing further worry and anxiety. A vicious cycle starts which is difficult to break.

Sleep problems can be both the cause of mental health problems and symptoms of a mental health problem. In fact, various studies have shown that there are clear links between the amount and quality of sleep achieved and specific mental health conditions. Sleep problems are more likely to affect patients with a mental health condition such as anxiety, depression, panic disorder, PTSD, bipolar disorder or ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) than they are people without. Conversely, the same mental health conditions can also cause insomnia in many patients.

Anxiety is a common feeling which many of us can experience at night. Who hasn’t lain awake at night staring at the ceiling either worrying about something or worrying about not being able to switch off and fall asleep and therefore be alert enough to face the day ahead? Lack of sleep can worsen the symptoms of anxiety disorder and make recovery more difficult.

Those suffering from depression can often find it difficult to sleep at night, they wake early and then perhaps fall asleep during the day because of lack of sleep. Sometimes sufferers of depression, and particularly those suffering from  CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), feel tired all the time and oversleep. Sleep becomes something difficult to cope with and to manage as part of the daily routine. Having insomnia and being constantly exhausted can also greatly increase the chances of developing depression.

Equally, sufferers of ADHD can experience difficulties in falling asleep and in experiencing deep sleep and for longer periods of time – although it can sometimes be difficult to accurately distinguish between the symptoms of ADHD and insomnia as there is a great deal of overlap.

People suffering from panic disorder can sometimes wake during the night with a panic attack interrupting a good night’s sleep and in turn causing further insomnia. People who experience nightmares or flashbacks, sometimes as part of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), will have their night’s sleep disrupted. Going to bed can be something which then becomes associated with fear and something to be avoided, causing insomnia and further mental and physical health problems.

Studies have shown that many patients with bipolar disorder appear to require less sleep during a manic episode, whereas during bipolar depression, patients have a tendency to sleep excessively or to experience restless sleep. There is also some evidence that difficulties in sleeping can become more severe just before a manic episode.

7 Tips on How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep

It is important for insomnia to be treated before it starts to further affect physical and mental health, and perhaps develop into a serious mental health condition. Some of the following can be helpful in alleviating the effects of insomnia and encouraging better sleep.

  1. Some people with insomnia find therapies such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) helpful. The therapy encourages the patient to change their outlook and to develop a more positive relationship with sleep.
  2. Relaxation techniques, such as meditation and breathing exercises can be helpful in learning ways to fall asleep and to enjoy deep sleep.
  3. Sometimes simple lifestyle changes can be enough to assist better sleep. For example, avoiding caffeine, alcohol and nicotine. Alcohol initially can help people to relax and to fall asleep, but the effects are only temporary. Nicotine speeds up the heart rate and therefore can be counter productive when it comes to trying to relax and to fall asleep.
  4. Research has shown that creating a good sleeping environment can be helpful for people suffering from insomnia. It is important to ensure that the bedroom is dark, quiet and free of distractions such as the television, computer tablets and mobile phones. Many doctors also recommend avoiding the use of such devices up to two hours before going to bed, so that the mind has the opportunity to slow down and switch off.
  5. Keeping to a regular bedtime routine of going to bed by a certain time and of waking and getting up at a certain time can be useful in aiding the body and the mind to adopt good sleeping habits.
  6. Physical exercise and plenty of fresh air help the body to feel physically tired and therefore promote good, deep sleep at night.
  7. If all else fails, medication may help – either to treat the mental health condition or to treat the insomnia. Often if the symptoms of one are alleviated, the other will also improve with time. The trick is for the right medication to be prescribed, as some anti-depressants for example can cause insomnia and some insomnia drugs can worsen depression. The GP or a psychiatrist will be able to prescribe medication to best suit the symptoms of the patient.

Consultant psychiatrists, Dr Adrian Winbow and Prof Tony Hale at Private Psychiatry are very experienced in treating patients with a variety of mental health conditions and who also may be experiencing difficulties sleeping. If you or someone close to you is suffering from insomnia or a mental health condition, please get in touch with Private Psychiatry.



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