sleep deprivation and mental health

Sleep Deprivation and Mental Health

There is a clear connection between sleep deprivation and mental health. Sleep plays an important role in your overall mental health, as it provides a time for your brain to rest after each day and refresh for the following day.

In this article, we’re exploring the connection between sleep deprivation and mental health.


How well you sleep determines short and long-term effects on your mental health.  Lack of quality sleep, or sleep deprivation, has been linked to developing and increasing mental health symptoms.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, adults over 18 need between seven and nine hours of quality sleep each night. Quality sleep refers to the amount of time you receive restful and restorative sleep. Quality is essential because it determines how you feel the next day and long-term, influences everything from brain and organ functioning to mental wellness.

Sleep is Food for the Brain

The human body needs protein and carbs that come from foods to survive. Without food, the body would deteriorate, and eventually, organs would shut down completely. The brain needs food to survive also but in the form of sleep.

Quality sleep gives the brain what it needs to function correctly. Not feeding the brain can lead to memory loss, concentration problems, emotional disruptions, mood swings, and psychiatric symptoms.

Sleep deprivation makes it hard for parts of the brain like the amygdala to regulate emotions. It also causes an imbalance in both brain chemicals and hormones. These imbalances can lead to problems in the prefrontal cortex, like decision making. This can lead to a domino effect, starting with lack of sleep and ending in harmful actions.

For example, when you get little sleep, you feel grumpy the next day. You go to work irritable, and your coworkers get on your nerves. Quality sleep may have helped you avoid a confrontation, but sleep deprivation causes you to throw a tantrum over your coworker’s annoyances.

Sleep Deprivation and Mental Health

The statistics regarding mental health and lack of good sleep are alarming. The Sleep Foundation reports 40% of those with insomnia also have a mental health disorder. This group includes 75% of people with depression and 90% of people with PTSD related to military combat.

Experiencing sleep deprivation occasionally won’t do much harm in the long run. However, if you experience poor sleep regularly, it can change the structure of your brain and lead to psychiatric disorders.

Sleep Deprivation and Depression

As reported in Neurologic Clinics, 90 percent of people with the major depressive disorder also have a sleep disorder. Common sleep difficulties include:

  • Trouble falling asleep
  • Trouble staying asleep
  • Nightmares
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Insufficient quality
  • Alterations in sleep stages

Sleep Deprivation and Bipolar Disorder

There is also a link between bipolar disorder and sleep deprivation. Common sleep issues can change with the stage of the condition. When depressed, someone may sleep too much. In a manic phase, a person may go days without sleeping or experience severe insomnia. For some, poor sleep quality can cause the onset of a manic episode.

Sleep Deprivation and Anxiety Disorders

According to reports, lack of quality sleep can cause a person to experience anxiety. Also, anxiety can make it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep. It can feel like being stuck in a vicious cycle. Insomnia is the most common sleep disturbance among those with anxiety.

Someone with post-traumatic stress disorder may be awakened during the night with nightmares. Someone with panic disorder may experience nocturnal panic. For those with an obsessive-compulsive disorder, obsessive thoughts can lead to compulsive behaviors, delaying sleep by minutes or hours.

Sleep Deprivation and ADHD

Both children and adults can have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Research shows up to 55% of those diagnosed with ADHD also have a sleep disturbance. The most common is trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, difficulty waking, problems with breathing while sleeping, night walking, and daytime sleepiness.

Often, doctors prescribe medicines like amphetamines to control ADHD symptoms during the day, usually amphetamines. To counteract the effects, doctors may prescribe sleep medicines at night. Not all sleep medicines lead to quality sleep, however.

The good news is that you can get quality, restorative sleep and avoid further mental health issues. Improving sleep hygiene with simple routine changes can lead to mental health benefits.

Sleep Deprivation and Hygiene

Poor sleep hygiene can lead to sleep disorders like insomnia. Sleep hygiene refers to the habits you develop for sleeping. If you have a sleep disorder, you likely have poor sleep hygiene habits. Examples of poor sleep hygiene habits include:

  • Drinking caffeine within a few hours of going to bed
  • Eating a large meal right before going to bed
  • Staying on your cell phone, computer, or other electronic devices 
  • Sleeping with the television or radio on
  • Irregular bedtimes
  • Uncomfortable bed or bedroom
  • Being too hot or too cold when trying to fall asleep

You can start tonight implementing healthy sleep hygiene habits that can lead to improved mental health. Here are some tips:

  • Stop drinking caffeine four or more hours before going to bed.
  • Turn off all the lights and background noise.
  • Avoid daytime naps.
  • Avoid exercising right before going to bed.
  • Repeat the same routine each night (brushing your teeth, bathing, getting in bed, reading a book, turning off the lights, meditating or praying, etc.). By establishing a routine, your body becomes used to these habits and will learn to prepare itself for sleep.
  • Don’t use your bed for anything except sleeping. It should not be your dining room table or your work desk.
  • Avoid staring at the clock. If you can’t fall asleep, get up and do something around the house for ten minutes and try again.
  • Make sure you feel comfortable.

Sleep Deprivation Treatment Options

There may be times when all the sleep tips and tricks do not work. That’s okay. It happens to most people. What you can do to overcome this plateau is seek treatment from a licensed mental health professional.

Together, you can figure out the root cause of your sleep problems. You can also learn mindfulness techniques geared to promote sleep. Sometimes just talking to someone or participating in cognitive behavioral therapy can help.

Make your sleep a priority so you can experience the mental and physical rewards that follow. Start tonight.