Get Your Zzzz’s: The Role of Sleep in Mental Health

By Carolina Boyd

About a third of all Americans get less than the recommended seven hours or more of sleep a night. While an occasional bout of sleeplessness may not be anything to worry about, chronic sleep problems have been linked to many mental health issues including depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder.

The most common sleep disorder is insomnia, caused by difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or waking up too early in the morning. It’s estimated that more than half of all insomnia cases are related to depression, anxiety or stress.

However, insomnia can also be the result of lifestyle or work conditions. For example, nighttime shift workers often struggle to sleep during the day. Or too much alcohol can actually have the opposite effect by disturbing your sleep patterns and causing you to wake up several times a night.

The National Alliance for Mental Illness notes that “[i]nsomnia is rarely an isolated medical or mental illness but rather a symptom of another illness to be investigated by a person and their medical doctors.”

Fortunately, many sleep-related issues can be treated. The first line of treatment for insomnia is the usually the same for all sufferers. That includes lifestyle changes like exercise, relaxation techniques or therapy. Also, improving sleep habits by keeping a consistent sleep schedule; turning off electronic devices 30 minutes before bed; and making your bedroom quiet and relaxing.

If you find yourself suffering from one too many sleepless nights, it’s important to take up the issue with your health care provider to see what else can be done to get a good night’s sleep.