The Connection between Sleep Disorders and Mental Health

September 29, 2021

Experts suggest that every adult should get at least seven or eight hours of sleep a night, but over 35 percent of all adults in the United States report sleeping less than that. It’s easy for rest to fall to one of our last priorities when we have things to do that seem more important. Plus, many factors can get in the way of quality sleep—stress, excessive worrying, an uncomfortable environment, sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), health, kids—the list goes on and on. With everything you have going on in your life, a full night of sleep may seem like a pipe dream.

However, failing to sleep enough can affect the quality of your life in a few significant ways. Not only does poor sleep lead to excessive tiredness that can worsen your ability to perform well in daily tasks, but it is also associated with several chronic health concerns. Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and even mental health issues like depression and anxiety have all been connected to sleep deprivation. In fact, not only have they been associated with the development of mental health concerns, but they can also worsen pre-existing conditions. In turn, mental health issues can also impact one’s ability to sleep, leading to a cycle that is hard to break free from. 

Keep reading to learn about how sleep is associated with some of the most common mental health concerns: stress and anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. We’ll also give you a few tips and treatment options that can help you get better sleep and improve your mental health. 

Stress and Anxiety

Anxiety disorders—including stress, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, phobias, and OCD—are among the most common mental health concerns in the world. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year.” While these disorders are highly treatable, only a little over a third of those suffering from them receive treatment.

Sleep disturbances like insomnia have long been associated with anxiety. First of all, the excessive worrying associated with anxiety disorders often causes people to stay up late at night, ruminating about their day. This leaves them in a state of hyperarousal, which has been recognized as one of the key contributors of insomnia. Similarly, those with anxiety disorders are more likely to worry about the quality of their sleep, leaving them unable to sleep due to those concerns.

Treatment for those with anxiety seeking better sleep may include one or more of the following:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Medications like anti-anxiety drugs, antidepressants, or beta-blockers
  • Lifestyle changes
  • Improved sleep hygiene
  • Relaxation techniques

By taking a few steps to calm your mind before bed, you may be able to improve the quality of your sleep. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your primary care physician (PCP) or dentist specializing in sleep and airway, for more help if you think you may have anxiety or continue to struggle with sleep.


Depression is not only one of the most common mental disorders in the world, but it’s also one of the leading causes of disability. The World Health Organization estimates that over 264 million people of all ages suffer from depression worldwide. When depression goes untreated for an extended period of time, it can impact one’s ability to function well at school or work, their social relationships, and, at its worst, lead to self-harm, such as suicide.

Depression and sleep deprivation are closely linked. In fact, John Hopkins Medicine asserts that people with insomnia are 10 times more likely to suffer from depression. Similarly, 75 percent of those with depression also report having a hard time falling asleep.

Treatment of a sleep disorder like insomnia may also improve the symptoms associated with depression, and vice versa. Most significantly, there is some evidence that a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) and depression treatment is particularly efficient at improving sleep quality and improving depression.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is another serious mental condition that causes dramatic abnormalities in mood, energy, and behavior. These changes can cause noticeable impairment in one’s daily life, possibly harming their careers, personal relationships, and their ability to function throughout life. Of the 10 million Americans with bipolar disorder, over 80 percent of them are classified as severe, which means it significantly impairs their daily lives.

Those with bipolar disorder may become so aroused that they can go without sleep for days without feeling tired. Sleep disturbances—like insomnia, nightmares, and delayed sleep phase syndrome—are also particularly common for these individuals. Clearly, bipolar disorder can impact one’s quality of sleep. However, impaired sleep is not only a symptom of the disorder, but it can also trigger it.

For those struggling with bipolar disorder, a good bedtime routine could make all the difference. According to experts, good sleep hygiene consists of the following:

  • Following a consistent sleep schedule
  • Avoiding napping, especially in the late afternoon
  • Using your bedroom for only sleep and sex
  • Avoiding caffeine, tobacco, and heavy meals for at least a few hours before bed

In addition to these lifestyle changes, medications and psychotherapy can also help manage bipolar disorder symptoms and sleep habits.

Not only can your mental health influence the quality of your sleep, but insufficient sleep may also worsen or precipitate the development of a mental illness. If you think you may be struggling with a mental illness, reach out to your doctor. They help you diagnose the possible disorder and form a realistic and effective treatment plan that best suits you and your lifestyle.