How Does Sleep Affect Mental Health?

So, you aren’t sleeping. You could be anxious about a new job. Or you could have a brand new baby. Whatever the case, you’re probably wondering at this point how your sleep is affecting your mental health. Sit down — it’s a lot. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything you can do about it.

How Does Sleep Affect Mental Health?

25% of Americans Experience Insomnia

One in four people will experience an inability to sleep at least once a year. Sleep is hard, and that’s why it’s a great health signifier. Whenever something goes wrong in our lives, it’s hard to get sleep. So while you may be having sleeping issues, rest assured — you aren’t alone.

There are also a lot of things that can damage your sleep habits. Looking at screens too late can make it difficult to wind down. Having too much caffeine before bed can keep your heart racing (and there’s caffeine even in chocolate). Sometimes difficulty sleeping is just a result of not having a set schedule or staying up too late binge-watching a new show.

Sleeplessness Has a Lot of Side Effects

It’s hard to emphasize just how important sleep is. A lack of sleep can affect your mental health in a lot of ways.

  • Irritability. If you’ve never snapped at someone after losing a lot of sleep, you’re probably lying to yourself. People without sleep become irritable and quick to snap. That can only compound stress.
  • Anxiety and depression. When you aren’t feeling your best, it’s very easy to get into a funk. Anxiety can build because you know that you aren’t up to certain tasks. Depression can set in because you don’t feel well.
  • Poor memory. Your brain just stops processing some things properly when you haven’t had your sleep. Because of that, you can find yourself with terrible short-term and long-term memory.
  • Inattention. It can be almost impossible to concentrate when you’re sleepy, which is one reason no one should ever drive when tired. In fact, driving when tired can be more dangerous than driving inebriated.
  • Hallucinations. Have you ever seen something out of the corner of your eye? Or swore your phone was ringing when it wasn’t? If you’ve missed a little sleep, you may start experiencing minor visual and auditory hallucinations. These can continue to advance as your lack of sleep persists.
  • Paranoia. Once you’ve experienced a significant lack of sleep, paranoia may set in. You may start to feel unnaturally agitated and anxious about specific topics or even start to fear sleep or your surroundings.

But the strangest thing, perhaps, is that we don’t really know why it does that. We don’t know why sleep physically affects us in such a profound way. We just have quite a bit of evidence showing that it does.

To this day, we only have theories on why sleep is necessary at all. Some people think sleep is required so we can process the events of the day and sort them into our long-term memory. Others note that it helps accelerate healing.

It’s possible that we just need to be in a “sleep state” for our body to be at rest. And it’s possible that sleeping dumps out a lot of chemicals that have been building up in our brains during the day.

In Fact, Sleeplessness Can Kill You

It’s true. You don’t need to worry about just the mental impact. Sleeplessness hurts your physical health too.

Fatal familial insomnia is a rare genetic disorder. If it’s passed to someone, they simply stop being able to sleep sometime in their 30s. Eventually, they die.

Scientists know that people die without sleep. But it’s really unclear as to why. In general, it appears as though everything seems to degrade, including mental health, until the person just can’t function anymore. Without sleep, people start to hallucinate, become neurotic, and can even throw up and become physically ill.

So get that sleep.

How to Get Better Sleep

Many people today need a CPAP machine because they’re experiencing an issue: they wake up often because they can’t breathe. This is called sleep apnea.

But insomnia can be caused by a lot of things. It’s usually a symptom rather than a disorder itself (though it can be its own disorder). Stress and depression in particular can cause a lack of sleep. Being physically unwell or generally unhealthy can also mean that your sleep feels shallow and unrewarding. A medical professional will explore not only the fact that you aren’t sleeping but the “why” behind the lack of sleep. Treatment may deal with the underlying condition or may involve something simpler, such as sleeping medications.

If anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues are causing your sleeplessness, contact Prime Behavioral Health. Our team can determine if medication or TMS therapy may be able to address the sleep issues or the underlying cause. Give us a call today to schedule an appointment at our Southlake office.

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