These 9 Little Sleep Mistakes Can Have An Impact On Your Mental Health
If you aren't getting enough sleep each night — which experts say adds up to about seven to nine hours of solid rest — it can start to take a toll on your mental health. Without sleep, you may be more prone to things like anxiety and depression, as well as other mental health concerns. And little sleep mistakes that keep you up can make it all the more likely.
"The connection between sleep and mental health is becoming increasingly clear," Rose MacDowell, chief research officer at Sleepopolis, tells Bustle. "Insomnia is a well-known early symptom of both depression and the manic phase of bipolar disorder, but there may also be a bi-directional relationship between mental health and sleep."
If you happen to be staying up super late, sleeping in on weekends, or even looking at your phone before bed, it can quickly change how you feel. "Even short-term lack of sleep activates the amygdala, which plays an important role in the processing of primitive emotions such as fear, anger, and aggression," MacDowell says. "This can cause irritability and loss of emotional control."
It can be easy to fall into an unhealthy sleep routine, or make certain mistakes. But noticing them is key, not only to ensure you get good sleep, but to give your mind the rest it needs in order to stay balanced. Read on below for some habits that can have a profound impact on your wellbeing, according to experts.
1. Sleeping Too Much
While getting enough sleep is definitely good for your body and mind, it is possible to overdo it. As MacDowell says, "[Sleeping too much] can cause feelings of depression, anxiety, and sadness," which you might notice if you're constantly hitting snooze, or spending the weekend in bed.
"A night or two of extra sleep is unlikely to cause these symptoms, but chronic oversleeping can disrupt the circadian rhythm and cause many of the same symptoms seen with insomnia, including cognitive issues and daytime fatigue," she says.
Oversleeping can also be a sign of depression. So if you can't get out of bed or always feel fatigued, let a doctor know.
2. Sleeping Too Little
Sometimes it's necessary to stay up late, but you definitely don't want to turn it into a habit. "Poor sleep is not only a symptom of depression and other mood disorders, it is likely a cause," MacDowell says. "As many as 75 percent of people with depression report symptoms of insomnia."
And that's why, if you're lying awake all night or feeing the need to stay up, you should let a doctor know. "Treating sleep disorders and sleep difficulties early may help make treatment more effective, and reduce the risk of developing depression or anxiety," MacDowell says.
3. Practicing Poor Sleep Hygiene
What you do while getting ready for bed, and the environment you sleep in, all falls under the heading of "sleep hygiene." Ideally, good sleep hygiene includes putting your phone away, dimming the lights, and making your room dark and quiet, in order to remove stress and help your body drift off.
So if you happen to be doing the opposite — bringing your phone to bed, checking work emails late into the night, etc. — take note.
"Any choice that can result in disrupted sleep can contribute to mental health issues or emotional reactivity," MacDowell says. The evening is a time to wind down and push away the worries of the day, followed by getting about seven to nine hours of sleep. If you aren't doing this on a regular basis, your mental health may start to suffer.
4. Sleeping In On The Weekends
Again, it might sound like a good idea to sleep in, and especially so on the weekends. But doing so too often can start to take a toll. "Any change to your sleep routine can throw off the circadian rhythm and cause sleep troubles and changes to mood," MacDowell says. "Over time, an irregular sleep schedule can cause the same symptoms as chronic insomnia and excessive sleeping, including depression, anger, sadness, and anxiety."
5. Ignoring Sleep Disorders
While it can be easy to ignore sleep disorders, or just hope that they'll go away on their own, it's important to get treatment as soon as you spot them. "Symptoms such as snoring, uncomfortable sensations in the legs while trying to sleep, and too much or too little sleep should be investigated by a sleep professional," MacDowell says.
If you snore, it may be a sign you have sleep apnea, which can lead to mood changes. And weird feelings in your legs may be a sign of restless legs syndrome, which can keep you up at night, "leading to depression, anxiety, and emotional difficulties," she says. "Any change in sleep patterns calls for a visit to a sleep specialist for evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment."
6. Having A Night Cap
Lots of people have a glass of wine before bed. And while that's usually OK, it's important to consider how it might be impacting your sleep.
"Alcohol is known to disrupt sleep, suppress REM sleep, and cause insomnia," MacDowell says. "Alcohol use alone can result in mood changes, and the risk rises when combined with poor sleep."
So if you're a poor sleeper, this may not be the best thing to do right before bed. Instead, try out a few calming activities like yoga, reading, listening to soft music, or even having a warm cup of (decaf) tea.
7. Staying Up Too Late
While it's perfectly fine to stay up late on occasion, this is yet another sleep mistake that can impact your mental health if you do it on the regular.
"Staying awake too long sends one’s body into over-tired mode," certified sleep expert Nicole Cannon, tells Bustle. "When this happens, there’s a spike in cortisol (the stress hormone) and as a result you may deal with increased night wakings, early morning rising, and a general restlessness throughout the night."
Over time, this can cause lead to chronic sleep deprivation, "which has a direct link to common mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and behavioral problems just to name a few," Cannon says.
8. Looking At Your Phone
Scrolling through your phone late at night can cause a surprising amount of stress, which can keep you awake. But the blue light coming off the screen can play a role, too.
"Blue light forms the basis for most electronics such as cell phones, TVs, or tablets," Cannon says. "The short wavelength of this light delays melatonin production (the sleepy hormone), which in turn disrupts natural circadian rhythm."
If you look at your phone, your body may never get properly tired. So try to get in the habit of leaving it in another room, and doing something else to wind down before bed.
9. Having Caffeine Before Bed
To get a good night's sleep, it can help to avoid foods and drinks with caffeine in them, like coffee, tea, chocolate, and soda, especially later in the evening.
"Having caffeine at night may disrupt [your] ability to fall asleep, [your] sleep duration, and sleep quality," Dr. Catherine Jackson, licensed psychologist and board-certified neurotherapist, tells Bustle. And that can, in turn, lead to sleep deprivation.
If you think caffeine is keeping you up, Dr. Jackson suggests avoiding it after 2 p.m., since it can stay in your system for up to six hours. This should give your body enough time to wind down before bed.
By avoiding these types of mistakes — like sleeping in on weekends, drinking coffee before bed, and so on — you can increase your chances of getting better sleep. And that can do wonders for your mental health.