Is Sleep a Factor in Your Mental Health?

October 15, 2021

Remember that saying from childhood about grumpy individuals “waking up on the wrong side of the bed?” There’s some truth to that: Sleep and mental health are closely connected. And it’s no secret that a lack of sleep can lead to a worsened mood, irritability, and an inability to concentrate.

Unfortunately for us, American adults are notoriously sleep-deprived, stuck in a hustle culture that values overtime, lack of sleep, and a work hard, play hard mentality. However, this way of living is detrimental to our long-term health and wellness, both physically and mentally. In addition, mental health conditions are on the rise, and sleep plays a major role in the symptoms affected individuals face each day.

Is sleep a factor in your mental health? Let’s discuss some of the most common connections and points you may want to discuss with your healthcare provider.

The Relationship Between Sleep and Mental Health

First things first, let’s discuss the relationship between sleep and mental health. Evidence points to a bilateral relationship, meaning the worse your sleep, the worse your mental health, and vice versa. The issue here is that mental health disorders often make sleeping more challenging, worsening many symptoms and creating an endless loop.

Sleep is essential for proper brain function. It allows our brains the chance to rest and repair themselves and enables us to think more clearly during the daytime, function better, and enhance our overall memory and recall. Research also shows that sleep, or lack thereof, significantly impacts an individual’s mental health. This can result in the development of a mental disorder or worsened symptoms.

Poor sleep caused by insomnia (a disorder in which the individual affected struggles to fall or stay asleep) or obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) (a condition in which the individual affected repeatedly stops breathing throughout the night) can also harm your brain chemistry. With OSA, many individuals suffer from reduced oxygen saturation levels, morning headaches, and several mood-related symptoms. Additionally, this condition is now showing a direct link to the development of dementia, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and stroke later in life.

Mental Health Disorders Affected by Sleep

To better understand how sleep affects specific mental health disorders, let’s dive into each in detail, beginning with depression, a disorder marked by recurrent and intense feelings of extreme sadness and hopelessness.


According to the World Health Organization (WHO), almost 4 percent or 300 million individuals suffer from depression, making it the leading cause of disability globally. Individuals struggling with depression are known to either have difficulty sleeping or sleep too much. Both cases result in unique challenges that affect mood and our ability to function correctly. On a positive note, however, we have a foundation for beginning treatment because sleep and our mental state go hand-in-hand.

For individuals who aren’t sleeping enough, implementing a bedtime routine or taking a sleep supplement can help them get the necessary shuteye. The same is true for individuals who sleep too much. Following a more favorable schedule with exercise and a healthy diet can help ease symptoms of depression. Remember, it is essential to have friends or family members to support these lifestyle changes and monitor the affected individual for any difference in mental state, both good and bad.


Another mental health condition affected by sleep is anxiety, a disorder marked by extreme worry. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety disorders, such as social or generalized, are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting nearly 40 million adults each year. This condition is caused by many contributing factors, including an individual’s genetics, brain chemistry, career, financial status, friends, and even personality.

Individuals with severe anxiety often experience excessive fear, racing thoughts, and an inability to calm down, making it difficult to sleep. This is known as hyperarousal and can lead to nervousness around bedtime, creating an endless loop of worsening anxiety. On a related note, individuals who have posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), another form of anxiety caused by exposure to traumatic events, are especially prone to sleep disturbances. Whether it be an inability to fall or stay asleep, these individuals often experience nightmares and are in a state of constant alertness, rendering them unable to get the full, deep rest their bodies and minds need to recover.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is marked by periods of extreme happiness or bliss, also known as manic periods, followed by extreme sadness, hopelessness, or depression. Both of these moods can impair an individual’s ability to function properly. Sleep patterns are also dramatically affected based on the mood that day. These disruptions can lead to side effects that worsen episodes.


Schizophrenia is a disorder in which the individual affected struggles to differentiate between frequent hallucinations and reality. These individuals often suffer from insomnia and disruptions to their natural circadian rhythm. These symptoms may also be exacerbated by medications, which is why it is necessary for those affected to talk with their healthcare provider about their current sleep patterns.


ADHD is commonly diagnosed in childhood. It is a condition that causes reduced attention and concentration and increased impulsivity. Affected individuals typically report periods of insomnia, restless leg syndrome (RLS), and OSA. These challenges are well-researched in children but present in adults with ADHD as well.

Autism Spectrum Disorder

ASD encompasses several neurodevelopmental disorders, primarily affecting social skills and communication. This condition is typically diagnosed during childhood and is incurable, although individuals with the disorder usually lead full and happy lives. However, these individuals are at a greater risk for sleeping disorders, such as sleep-disordered breathing (SDB). It is essential to treat these sleep disturbances as they can dramatically affect the individual’s quality of daily life.

Possible Solutions

It’s clear to see how sleep and mental health go hand in hand. In addition to the above, sleep, or lack thereof, can affect an average individual’s mood and ability to concentrate or handle adversity. For individuals suffering from poor quality sleep, there are many steps you can take to get back on track. This begins with lifestyle changes, including implementing a nighttime routine, practicing meditation or engaging in light stretching before bed, reducing blue light exposure, and avoiding food and drink in the hour leading up to sleep.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may be another excellent option for individuals with a mental health condition. This consists of talk therapy with a counselor or other healthcare professional. It can help individuals discover coping skills and tools for handling periods of difficulty. It is important to find an individual who you connect with and trust. This will ensure deep, meaningful conversations and increase your chance of improvement over time.

Sleep is a significant factor in your mental health. Not only does it play a role in the lives of individuals with existing mental health conditions, but it can also affect the everyday person’s mood and temperament. It is essential to set ourselves up for success, implement a nighttime routine, and talk with a trusted healthcare professional about your sleep disturbances. Together, you will be able to find a solution, get the rest you need, and live a fuller life.