Countries worldwide are in the grips of a mental health crisis. According to the World Health Organization, around 450 million people are struggling with mental illness. It is the leading cause of disability, and no one is immune.
Mental illness can look very different, and each person’s experience will be unique to them. It is a health condition characterized by changes in thinking, behavior, and emotion, causing distress and problems at work, with family, or in society. The symptoms experienced depend on the disorder and factors contributing to an individual’s mental state. For example, some may abuse drugs and alcohol, feel sad or down, experience sleep troubles, have mood swings or trouble sleeping.
All symptoms and experiences with mental health have a personal, societal, and economic cost. As the leading cause of disability, it is estimated that mental health leaves, loss in productivity, reductions, and health care cost the country billions of dollars each year. Though significant, the human cost is much greater. Mental illness can cause physical illness as well. According to CAMH, people will mental illness are twice as likely to have a substance use problem and those with mood disorders are more likely to develop long-term medical issues. Further, according to WHO, one person dies every 40 seconds by suicide.
Despite its prevalence and enormous impact, access to services and support are a significant barrier. The majority of children and adults that need help received delayed access to specialized treatment or no treatment at all. In addition to a lack of treatment, there also remains a lack of information and education regarding mental health.
Though mental health awareness has increased over the past few years, it is still not enough, and many feel a stigma associated with it. This causes more people to go without help and few people to take proactive health measures to care for their mental health. However, just as there are proactive measures you can take to preserve your physical health, you can also be proactive about your mental health.
A balanced diet, exercise, and enough sleep can help maintain both physical and mental health. Though mental illness and mental health are much more complex than getting a night of good sleep, research has discovered a connection between the two. First, a lack of quality sleep and sleep deprivation can adversely affect your mental health and psychological state. Secondly, those with mental health problems are more likely to have insomnia and sleep disorders.
Harvard Health published an article in August 2021 on how sleep deprivation affects mental health. The report stated that 50% to 80% of psychiatric patients experienced chronic sleep problems compared to the 10% to 18% of the adult population. These sleep issues were particularly prevalent in those whose attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, anxiety, and depression. The old “chicken or the egg” debate doesn’t’ apply here, and it is not as simple as saying sleep deprivation causes mental illness or mental illness causes sleep troubles. In some cases, sleep disorders can be a consequence of a mental health issue, and in other instances, the sleep disorder contributes to the development of mental health issues. This connection is complex, and if one isn’t addressed, it can make the other worse.
For example, children with ADHD can experience trouble with sleep, such as difficulty falling asleep, daytime sleepiness, or difficulty waking up. Some studies have found that these challenges with sleep can contribute to or mimic the symptoms of ADHD. More specifically, a 2015 study found that by providing sleep interventions, ADHD symptoms could be improved.
Another example of this complex relationship is with depression. Sleep disorders like insomnia are known symptoms of depression; however, recent research has suggested that a lack of sleep could be the cause of depression. For example, a meta-analysis discovered that individuals with insomnia are twice as likely to develop depression than those who do not have trouble sleeping.
A lack of sleep can worsen symptoms of mental illness, especially in those with bipolar disorder. Individuals with bipolar disorder often experience sleep disturbances such as irregular sleep-wake cycles, nightmares, and insomnia. In addition, this lack of quality sleep can trigger manic episodes, as seen in one study that found a change in sleep cycle preceded the onset of mania in 25% to 65% of patients.
Like bipolar disorder, sleep disturbances are also linked to schizophrenia, with 80% of individuals reporting insomnia. Some research suggests that disrupted sleep and insomnia is an early sign before the onset of the illness.
Sleep can also contribute to burnout. Burnout is the feeling of extreme emotion and physical exhaustion typically associated with one's workplace. Recently the World Health Organization redefined it as a “syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” They also included three symptoms in their definition: increased mental distance from one’s job or increased negative feelings, reduced productivity, and feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion. As you can imagine, this significantly impacts a person's mental health.
Although numerous factors contribute to burnout, the National Sleep Foundation says that getting less than six hours of sleep each night is one of the most significant predictors of burnout. The two go hand-in-hand. Students, executives, and driven employees may skip sleep to get more done, but this comes with consequences.
The University of California at Berkley found that after a night of sleep deprivation, participants experienced a rise in anxiety by 30%. This accumulates over time, making everyday work stresses feel more insurmountable, which can cause an individual to lose even more sleep.
According to Vicki Culprin, author of The Business of Sleep: How Sleeping Better Can Transform Your Career, sleep deprivation has a negative impact on your cognitive abilities, memory, creativity, and decision-making skills. This all puts an individual at greater risk for burnout. Fortunately, you can help preserve your mental health by prioritizing sleep. By taking actions to help you get a better night's sleep, you can feel better, become more resilient, and function better.
Experts like Vicki Culprin suggest addressing your sleep hygiene and focusing on progress over perfection. You should aim to get 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night, but this can be difficult to do if your bedtime is never consistent. Going to bed and waking up at the same time, even on weekends, will make it easier for you to fall asleep and maintain regular sleep cycles. If you have trouble falling asleep, avoid stimulants like alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco before bed and don’t use devices like laptops, iPads, or your phone in bed.
Regular exercise is also excellent for your mental health! It will increase endorphins, reduce anxiety, and help you sleep better. For best sleep, try to schedule your workouts earlier in the day. In addition, certain supplements like Magnesium Glycinate can help. This mineral occurs naturally in our body, yet most of us are not getting enough from our diets. Research has found that the supplement has a calming, tranquil effect and will improve sleep.
Your sleeping environment also makes a difference in your quality of sleep. You should make your bedroom a calming, stimuli-free zone, free of work and reminders of things you need to do. A comfortable bed and mattress will also help you have a better sleep. A lumpy pillow or one that’s too flat will cause strain on your neck, head, and shoulders and make it painful. A pain-free sleep is better sleep. Get yourself a good, supportive pillow like a millet pillow that will maintain alignment. You will sleep better and wake up refreshed.
Sleeping in a cool, dark room is better for a good night’s rest. Keep your thermostat down and make sure your blankets and bedding aren’t too hot. Our body temperature drops as we fall asleep and gradually rises as it’s time to wake up. If you get too hot during the night, it will cause you to wake up earlier than you should. Look for breathable fabrics like a Tencel sheet set that will help keep you cool and comfortable all night long.
Good sleep habits and a quality night’s rest aren’t the cure for mental illness. Mental health disorders are far too complex, with many factors at play. That said, plenty of research has found that when we are well-rested and get enough sleep each night, we can reduce the symptoms of mental health disorders and reduce our risk of experiencing mental health issues.
Making small changes in your day and prioritizing your health and wellness can make a difference. For example, exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet, and consistently getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night can help preserve your mental health. Just remember, focus on progress not perfection, and start with a solid sleep routine and a comfortable sleeping environment. Though a millet pillow or Tencel sheet set can’t directly impact your mood, it can help you sleep better which is connected to mental health.