Sleep and Mental Health

Are mornings a challenge to wake up and feel well rested? Are you constantly fighting with your adolescent to get up out of bed to get to school on time? Are the emotions or behaviors you see in your child a result of not enough sleep? Studies have shown that sleep deprivation can affect your mental health and your mental health can affect your sleep.

What happens when we sleep?

Every 90 minutes, we go through 5 stages of a sleep cycle when we sleep. Stages 1 and 2, we fall asleep but are not in a deep sleep. Stages 3 and 4, we are in a deep restful sleep where our breathing and heart rate slows down. This helps our immune system fight against illnesses and our mind and body to rejuvenate. Stage 5 is when we are in active sleep and dream, more commonly called REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement). REM sleep can boost our learning, memory, and emotional health. These 5 stages are repeated 5-6 times per night.

How much sleep do we need?

Both our body and brain need sleep to be able to function the next day, and each person is unique in how much sleep they may need. The National Sleep Foundation offers some guideline around this question.

  • Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours
  • School age children (6-13): 9-11 hours
  • Teenagers (14-17): 8-10 hours
  • Young adults (18-25): 7-9 hours
  • Adults (26-64): 7-9 hours
  • Older adults (65+): 7-8 hours

How to improve sleep?

Our habits that we create can affect our sleep. For example, playing video games too much or too close to bed time can activate our brain, so it is more challenging to slow down our thinking and fall asleep. Video games can have similar effect on our body and brain like caffeine or nicotine, which are stimulates that speed up the heart rate and thinking. The screen can also emit too much light causing confusion in our brain thinking it is daytime and limiting its production and release of our own melatonin, which helps us get that sleepy feeling at night. Limiting and giving up screen time at least 60 minutes before bed and being mindful of bright lights or the blue lights that screens emit have been proven to improve sleep.

Relaxation is another way we can improve sleep. In our society, we can be always on the go and busy. We have lots of things on our mind and our to do list can be endless. Relaxation techniques like meditations, deep breathing, guided imagery, and progressive muscle tension relaxation can help. It may feel strange at first to try some of these strategies, but after a while, the racing thoughts will diminish, our body will feel at ease, and falling asleep takes less time.

Finally, making changes can be hard, so therapy can also help through this process. Some can get preoccupied by not falling asleep or have a hard time seeing the improvements or focus more on the negatives that may be contributing to sleepless nights. Therapy can build self-esteem and confidence, make you feel not alone in this, and help brainstorm ideas that may improve your sleep and mental health.