Sleep, Anxiety, and Mental Health

Sleep, Anxiety, and Mental Health
May 30, 2015 David Shanley, Psy.D.

Substantial research indicates sleep has direct impacts on various aspects of health and mental health including learning, stress, and mood. It probably does not come as a surprise to people that when they get better sleep, they feel better the next morning. However, what may surprise some individuals is that sleep can have a direct impact on several areas of functioning, and that not getting enough sleep for days or weeks in a row can have significant detrimental effects besides just “feeling tired.” And, anxiety is often cited as a reason people have difficulty sleeping.

A lack of sleep can lead to increased irritability and decreased ability to cope with stress and frustration. It has also been linked with a higher risk for stroke, diabetes, depression, alcohol abuse, and car accidents. When we sleep well, we are able to take on the world, face challenges, and handle difficult situations as they come up. Conversely, if you start getting less than 7-8 hours of sleep regularly, it becomes more difficult to cognitively and emotionally process situations, leading to more frustration and stress, since you are not able to perform optimally.

Not only is a lack of sleep bad for you, but also sleep is actually good for you. Studies have demonstrated that learning takes place while we are asleep. Your brain is not only getting much needed rest, but is also processing and committing new information to memory. Why would we want to deprive our brains of this opportunity? This is especially important if you are preparing or studying for a test, interview, or presentation the next day. Put in the work and go to bed, and let your brain do the rest while you sleep. You will perform better the next day!

When the demands of jobs, careers, family, friends, and life start piling up, sleep is often the first thing we sacrifice. The problem is that this only exacerbates stress and difficulty with handling problems. Try to be mindful of this process happening and make a committed choice to prioritize sleep. Even though your boss, spouse, friend, or family member may not agree, don’t let outside pressures make important health decisions for you!

So, whatever your reason for not sleeping enough, whether anxiety or something else, it’s probably not more important than taking care of your mind, body, and mental health. Make sleep a priority in your life. The positive effects of a good night’s sleep are going to lead to better productivity, job performance, and relationships. If you’re unsure about how to get better sleep, setting a regular routine is a great place to start. And, if you’re struggling with worrisome thoughts that keep you up all night, maybe it’s time to come in and talk it out with a therapist and see what else you can do to put your mind to rest for the night, and start living a happier, healthier, and less stressful life!

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