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How sleep deficiency affects mental health


Sleep is an important part of your daily routine as you spend 1/3 of your life sleeping. Sleep is essential for your brain to learn and create new memories, concentrate and respond quickly. Getting enough quality sleep - at the right times are as essential to us as eating, drinking and breathing. It is also vital for good health and well-being throughout your lifetime.

What is sleep deficiency?

  • Not getting the required amount of sleep we need (sleep deprivation)

Teenagers are recommended to get 8-10 hours of sleep every day

  • Sleeping at the wrong time (the ideal time to go to sleep is 10pm)

  • You don’t sleep well (eg sleep disorder)

  • You don’t get all the different types of sleep your body needs (e.g. REM sleep - brain activity picks up rapidly, for more intense dreaming, memory, emotional processing, healthy brain development; non-REM sleep - overall brain activity slows, but there are quick bursts of energy)

Consequences of sleep deficiency include:

  • Chronic health problems (eg heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, obesity, depression etc)

  • Injuries (eg sleepiness while driving may lead to serious car crash injuries and death, higher chances of fall and broken bones)

Famous tragic accidents caused by sleep deficiency: nuclear accident at Three Mile Island in 1979, nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl in 1986

*show images of accidents*

  • Loss of productivity

  • Greater likelihood of death

  • Trouble focusing, learning, reacting in daily activities (eg at school, work, driving)

However, let’s focus more on how sleep deficiency affects mental health:

  • Depression

Chronic sleep deprivation rather than acute sleep loss may lead to depression that is potentially attributable to the neurochemical changes that occur in the brain, which may lead to disturbed sleep. It may even lead to suicidal thoughts.

  • More likely to feel anxious

Poor sleep can trigger mania (periods of excitement), psychosis (losing some contact with reality because thoughts and emotions are gravely affected) or paranoia (becoming paranoid when their ability to reason and assign meanings to things break down), or make existing symptoms worse

  • Increased anger and aggression

Sleep deprivation is connected to mood changes. People who get adequate amounts of sleep each night regularly (8-10 hours) exhibit fewer emotional outbursts (eg anger, displaying fewer aggressive behaviors).

  • Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)

OSA is a disorder that involves pausing in breathing during sleep and a reduction in the body’s oxygen levels, creating fragmented and disturbed sleep. OSA occurs more frequently in people with psychiatric conditions (mental illness), detracting from their physical health as well as heightening their risk of serious mental illnesses.

Why is sleep so important to our mental health?

  • Important to a number of brain and body functions engaged in processing daily events and regulating emotions and behaviors

  • Maintaining cognitive skills (eg memory, learning, attention)

  • Sufficient sleep (especially REM sleep as mentioned before) facilitates the brain’s processing of emotional information

  • Consolidation of positive emotional content

Soo.. we’ve talked a lot about the consequences of not getting enough sleep, so let’s talk about

How to improve your sleeping habits and quality of your sleep:

  • Be consistent - go to bed and get up at the same time every day (even on weekends!) so your body can be used to a schedule

  • A dark, quiet room with a comfortable temperature

  • 10-3-2-1-0 method

  • 10 hours before bed: no more caffeine

  • 3 hours before bed: no more food or alcohol

  • 2 hours before bed: no more work

  • 1 hour before bed: limit screen time

  • 0: number of times you’ll need to hit snooze in the morning

  • Do more exercises - being physically active during the day can help you fall asleep more easily during the night.

  • Limit daytime naps - long daytime naps can interfere with nighttime sleep. Limit naps to no more than one hour and avoid napping late in the day.

  • Manage worries - jot down what you’re worried/ anxious about and set it aside for tomorrow. Meditating, journalling, getting organized, setting priorities are good for stress management.

If you’re having trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor or a sleep specialist.



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