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Sleep and Mental Health

If you get enough of sleep you feel great! If you are lacking in that area, doing anything can be the worst thing ever and hard to stay focused on the task at hand. In today's busy world it has become acceptable to put sleep on the back burner in order to get more done and to be more productive overall. Many people are not getting enough sleep (4,1). However, the effects of this can be devastating on our bodies in more ways than one and make it difficult for us to function to our full potential. Multiple different organizations and research support the idea that most adults should be getting 7-9 hours of sleep a night (4,1).

We’ve all have had a few nights in our lifetime when we wake up after a night of sleep and feel like we just aren’t rested, or wake up with not enough sleep because we had to stay up late working, or chose to go out with friends. Trying to focus on anything of importance that next day is near impossible. If we interact with anyone we feel like we have a short fuse and may lose our temper on those around us. We all know that sleep is important for use to function the next day but sleep also has a powerful effect on out mental wellbeing.

Sleep has been linked to most if not all mental health problems and difficulties, including: anxiety, depression, stress, a negative mood and outlook on life (2,6,8,11,12). This makes sense in the grand scheme of things as people would probably agree that they don’t feel like themselves the next day in regards to their mental health. Considering the possibility that lack of sleep can lead to a mental health or mood disorder is pretty substantial and is important to keep in mind when thinking about the importance of sleep and that it should be made a priority.

When comparing groups of people who have sleep difficulties, such as insomnia, to those that do not have problems sleeping, the group with sleep difficulties were twice as likely to develop depression (3). Another study examined the effects insomnia has on more severe issues such as hallucinations and paranoia. The study used cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques to work with clients that suffered from insomnia. The findings supported the notion that getting more sleep resulted in less problems with hallucinations and paranoia (5).

There is strong evidence to support sleep and our body’s ability to regulate emotions in a healthy way (7,9) and that there is a direct correlation to how a person’s sleep at night and how they feel during the day. Evidence has supported that the connections between the parts of the brain that control and regulate emotions functions more effectively when a brain is getting rest versus when it is sleep deprived. As one continues to be more sleep deprived the individual is more likely to have more permanent or chronic problems when it comes to their ability to regulate emotions (13). This can then turn into a cycle as one becomes more sleep deprived and their emotions suffer; which can then lead to more serious problems and stress. Then, as a result of the increase in negative emotions, the individual has more problems in regards to sleep.

The brain uses the time we are sleeping to heal and rest and if we don’t have that time or go a while without, it can effect us long term. During the time of rapid eye movement sleep (REM) the brain goes through past memories in order to consolidate and learn from that time in order to grow (9). Thus suggesting that those that are wanting to learn, or are in a position that requires them to have a sharp memory, should prioritize sleep.

This is no surprise as most people would probably agree that they do not feel like themselves after one night of either bad sleep or not enough sleep and multiple nights like this would add up over time. For most people, they would say that they want to be emotionally well and be able to live a productive life. Everyone experiences times of feeling down or in some kind of slump for one reason or another. The next time you start to feel stress, anxious, depressed, or mentally unwell, maybe the first thing that you should do is look at your sleep habits and the amount of sleep you have been getting.


  1. 1 in 3 adults don't get enough sleep. (2016, February 16). Retrieved February 24, 2021, from

  2. Babson, K. A., Trainor, C. D., Feldner, M. T., & Blumenthal, H. (2010). A test of the effects of acute sleep deprivation on general and specific self-reported anxiety and depressive symptoms: An experimental extension. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 41(3), 297-303. doi:10.1016/j.jbtep.2010.02.008

  3. Baglioni, C., Battagliese, G., Feige, B., Spiegelhalder, K., Nissen, C., Voderholzer, U., . . . Riemann, D. (2011). Insomnia as a predictor of depression: A meta-analytic evaluation of longitudinal epidemiological studies. Journal of Affective Disorders, 135(1-3), 10-19. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2011.01.011

  4. CDC - data and statistics - sleep and sleep disorders. (2017, May 02). Retrieved February 24, 2021, from

  5. Freeman, D., Sheaves, B., Goodwin, G. M., Yu, L., Nickless, A., Harrison, P. J., . . . Espie, C. A. (2017). The effects of improving sleep on mental health (oasis): A randomised controlled trial with mediation analysis. The Lancet Psychiatry, 4(10), 749-758. doi:10.1016/s2215-0366(17)30328-0

  6. Goldstein AN, Walker MP. The role of sleep in emotional brain function. Annu Rev Clin Psychol. 2014;10:679-708. doi: 10.1146/annurev-clinpsy-032813-153716. Epub 2014 Jan 31. PMID: 24499013; PMCID: PMC4286245.

  7. Gruber R, Cassoff J. The interplay between sleep and emotion regulation: conceptual framework empirical evidence and future directions. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2014 Nov;16(11):500. doi: 10.1007/s11920-014-0500-x. PMID: 25200984.

  8. Kosticova, M., Husarova, D., & Dankulincova, Z. (2020). Difficulties in getting to sleep and their association with emotional and behavioural problems in Adolescents: Does the Sleeping Duration influence THIS ASSOCIATION? International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(5), 1691. doi:10.3390/ijerph17051691

  9. Li W, Ma L, Yang G, Gan WB. REM sleep selectively prunes and maintains new synapses in development and learning. Natural Neuroscience. 2017 Mar;20(3):427-437. doi: 10.1038/nn.4479. Epub 2017 Jan 16.

  10. Palmer CA, Alfano CA. Sleep and emotion regulation: An organizing, integrative review. Sleep Med Rev. 2017 Feb;31:6-16. doi: 10.1016/j.smrv.2015.12.006. Epub 2016 Jan 14.

  11. Scott, A. J., Webb, T. L., & Rowse, G. (2017). Does improving sleep lead to better mental health? A protocol for a meta-analytic review of randomised controlled trials. BMJ Open, 7(9). doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2017-016873

  12. Shanahan, L., Copeland, W. E., Angold, A., Bondy, C. L., & Costello, E. J. (2014). Sleep problems predict and are predicted by generalized anxiety/depression and oppositional defiant disorder. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 53(5), 550-558. doi:10.1016/j.jaac.2013.12.029

  13. Watling J, Pawlik B, Scott K, Booth S, Short MA. Sleep Loss and Affective Functioning: More Than Just Mood. Behav Sleep Med. 2017 Sep-Oct;15(5):394-409. doi: 10.1080/15402002.2016.1141770. Epub 2016 May 9.

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