Sleep and Mental Health

Photo by Amy Treasure on Unsplash

Written by Ellie Hughes, Provisional Psychologist

Sleep and mental health have a unique relationship and often influence each other. Sleep is seen as our chance to allow our brain reset, restore and recover from the processing tasks of daily living. Without good sleep, our brain is not able to function fully. It is known that sleep disturbance can contribute to changes in mood, memory and concentration, learning, and onset or worsening of mental health symptoms. Additionally, it is also recognised that sleep disturbance itself is often a symptom of many mental health concerns, including anxiety, depression, stress, bipolar disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Sleep studies show that problems with sleep are a contributor to poor mental health, for example, those with concerns such as insomnia are much more likely to develop depression. However, those with depression or anxiety are also likely to develop sleep disturbance as a symptom, and so it is apparent there is a unique and complex relationship. 

Oftentimes during psychological therapy, focus on sleep disturbance is incorporated as a way of improving other mood or behavioural symptoms, as well as overall mental health functioning. There are many common habits that contribute to sleep problems - these habits are referred to as poor sleep hygiene. Practicing good sleep hygiene can increase chances of improved sleep, and thus improve wellbeing. Below are some simple steps to help with sleep hygiene:

  • Have a regular bedtime and steady sleep schedule

  • Leave enough time to prepare for sleep

  • Find ways to feel relaxed before bed and include this in your bedtime routine e.g. meditation, deep breathing exercises or progressive body relaxation

  • Avoid use of your bed for non-sleep activities such as studying, work, or watching TV

  • Limit alcohol intake - people may feel alcohol helps them fall asleep, however, it often leads to waking through the night or feeling groggy the next day

  • Avoid stimulants close to bedtime including caffeine and nicotine

  • Use dim lighting before bed and avoid use of electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime 

  • Maximise comfort where possible with your mattress, pillow and bedding

  • Ensure excess light or sound its minimised e.g. blinds/curtains, earplugs

  • Expose yourself to natural sunlight and exercise during the day

If disturbed sleep continues to persist, or begins to interfere with your daily functioning, it may be worth discussing with your healthcare provider.


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