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Sleep And Mental Health

We spend roughly one-third of our lives sleeping. Sleep is as crucial to our bodies as eating, drinking, and breathing, and it is critical for sustaining excellent mental and physical health. Sleeping allows us to recover from both mental and physical exertion.

Sleep and health are inextricably linked; bad sleep increases the likelihood of poor health, and poor health makes it more difficult to sleep. Sleep problems might be one of the first indicators of a problem. Anxiety and depression, for example, are common mental health issues that frequently underpin sleep problems. We investigated sleep and mental health during Mental Health Awareness Week in 2011, conducting one of the largest surveys on sleep and its impact on mental health.

We've all heard the myth about telling folks to get out of bed and get their act together, but lethargy, exhaustion, and disturbed sleep can be symptoms of a mental health problem or a side effect of medication. Sleep and sleep disturbances must be addressed as part of mental health treatment, although this is often disregarded.

Sleep is especially difficult in shift-based employment and in safety-critical industries like the railway, therefore it's even more crucial to get enough excellent quality sleep.

We can all benefit from bettering our sleeping habits. For many of us, it may simply be a matter of making minor lifestyle or mindset changes to help us sleep better. Insomnia (loss of sleep or poor quality sleep) or other sleep difficulties affect up to one-third of the population. These can have an impact on our mood, energy, and concentration levels, as well as our capacity to stay awake and operate at work during the day.

Often, simple strategies might help you sleep better. If they don't help, talk to your doctor about additional options, especially since sleep disorders might be an indicator of other health concerns.

If you continue to have sleep problems, it is possible that there is an underlying issue that you should discuss with your doctor. Treating sleep issues concurrently with mental health issues can help treat both symptoms and causes, resulting in a faster recovery.

There are four simple things to consider you to help HEAL a period of poor sleep:

Health: We know that poor health affects sleep and vice versa. Mental health problems like depression and anxiety often go hand in hand with sleep problems. It’s important to get any health concerns addressed both for helping physical symptoms and for addressing any worries that might keep you awake.

Environment: Where you sleep is important, and the bedroom and bed should be mainly places you associate with sleep. In particular watching TV, playing with phones or screens, or eating in bed can all affect the quality of our sleep.  Temperature, noise levels and light all play a part in determining our sleep. If you find yourself experiencing poor sleep, try keeping a sleep diary to see if there are patterns which can help identify a problem.

Attitude: It’s easiest to get to sleep when we are able to relax, and let go of concerns. We’ve all had a night where we lie awake and worry. In the time before we go to bed, we should try and wind down, be less stimulated, and relax. These days this can be harder than ever, but relaxation techniques, a warm bath or mindfulness practice can all help. If you find you can’t get to sleep, it is always best to get up, perhaps make a warm milky drink, and then try again when you feel sleepier. It can be tempting to turn on the TV or phone screen but this may stimulate you and make it harder to nod off.

Lifestyle: What you eat and drink can affect your sleep. Stimulants like caffeine can make it harder to sleep, and a heavy or sugary meal close to bedtime can make sleep uncomfortable. Alcohol might seem to help you get to sleep, but it reduces the quality of sleep later. Taking exercise during the day is also a good way to aid sleep, but exercise releases adrenaline so exercising during the evening may be less helpful.

Alcoholics Anonymous

Alcoholism, now known as alcohol use disorder, is a condition in which a person has a desire or physical need to consume alcohol, even though it has a negative impact on their life.


The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) describes alcohol use disorder as “problem drinking that becomes severe.”

A person with this condition does not know when or how to stop drinking. They spend a lot of time thinking about alcohol, and they cannot control how much they consume, even if it is causing serious problems at home, work, and financially.

Alcohol abuse can be used to talk about excessive or inappropriate consumption of alcohol, but not necessarily dependence.

Moderate alcohol consumption does not generally cause any psychological or physical harm. However, if those who enjoy social drinking increase their consumption or regularly consume more than is recommended, AUD may eventually develop.

Signs of Depression

What: Depression is a low mood that lasts for a long time, affecting everyday life. It is often triggered by a mix of genetic, psychological and environmental factors; studies show that the risk of becoming depressed can be increased by life events such as poverty, death of a loved one, physical illness or abuse. For some, the risk is also hereditary.

Symptoms: Persistent sadness, loss of interest in activities, loss of appetite, feelings of worthlessness, becoming easily agitated, among others

Treatment and help: Talk therapy with a trained counsellor or psychotherapist, exercise and support groups are among the options available. Antidepressants are also sometimes prescribed, but they should not be used for treating children, and should not be the first line of treatment for adolescents. All treatment should involve identifying stress factors and sources of support, and individuals should maintain social networks and activities. 

Facts About Depression

  • Major or clinical depression is a mood disorder and very different from the passing feeling of being “depressed” that many people experience, which is often a passing feeling related to particular circumstances or an event. Major depressive disorder or clinical depression is persistent – it lasts at least two weeks – and greatly impacts daily functioning.

  • The average age for the first episode of depression is 32.5. However, depression is most prevalent in adolescence and young adults.

  • About 15% of adolescents and young adults will experience depression.

  • The earliest age children experience depression is dropping. In fact, studies show that children as young as three can be diagnosed with clinical depression and their signs of depression are the same as those among adolescents and adults.

  • Depression can also occur following the birth of a child. This is called postpartum depression.

  • Mental Health First Responders need to know that clinical depression manifests in a wide variety of ways – some of them surprising and counter intuitive. Depression is not always the person who can’t get out of bed. It is sometimes the person who is angry and irritable much of the time. It can often look like laziness, meanness, rudeness, or just being a “bad” friend, partner, roommate, coworker, etc.

High Functioning Anxiety

What: Anxiety is a common emotion when dealing with daily stresses and problems. But when these emotions are persistent, excessive and irrational, and affect a person’s ability to function, anxiety becomes a disorder. There are different types of anxiety disorders, including phobias, panic and stress disorders, and obsessive compulsive disorder. 

Symptoms: Apprehension, confusion, on edge, a sense of helplessness, repeated negative thoughts, muscle tension, palpitations and difficulty breathing

Treatment and help: Simple strategies, such as relaxation techniques and regular exercise, are effective in reducing anxiety and contributing to emotional well-being. Psychotherapy can help and is sometimes used together with medication to reduce and eliminate signs and symptoms. 

What Does Anxiety Feel Like?

Everyone experiences the dictionary definition of anxiety: “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome” from time to time.

Anxiety becomes a disorder when the amount and/or frequency of the feelings of anxiety (ie.extension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure) interfere with the ability to participate in daily life.

Anxiety disorder is the most common mental health disorder and has become a major public health concern worldwide.

The complexities and challenges of modern life have led many to experience chronic stress that, when left unalleviated or treated, can become an anxiety disorder.

The Takeaway

Lack of sleep is linked to a number of unfavorable health consequences including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and depression. Some psychiatric conditions can cause sleep problems, and sleep disturbances can also exacerbate the symptoms of many mental conditions including depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.