Sleep and Mental Health: A Direct Relationship

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Sleep is an essential part of maintaining a healthy mind and body. When you are not sleeping enough or when the quality of your sleep is poor, you have a higher risk of developing cognitive challenges. According to Web MD (1), lack of sleep actually hinders or harms your ability to think clearly and to maintain a healthy state of mind. As a result, it contributes to mental health disorders or worsens certain symptoms associated with a disorder.

What is Lack of Sleep?

Web MD (1) explains that sleep allows the body to heal at a cellular level. When you or a loved one does not sleep well at night, it causes challenges with cognitive function. Harvard University (2) states that roughly 50 to 80 percent of men and women with a mental health disorder are also chronically sleep deprived. In the general population, roughly 10 to 18 percent of adults are sleep deprived, says Harvard University (2).

Lack of sleep means that an individual is sleeping less than six hours per day. As a general rule, most adults need roughly six to eight hours of sleep for optimal cognitive function and physical health. According to Web MD (1), sleeping less than six hours a night for an entire week means that an individual is lacking a full day’s rest and it is not possible to make up for the lost sleep over a single weekend. Over time, that lack of sleep builds up and causes further challenges for mental and emotional health.

Sleep and Mood

Chronic sleep deprivation has a negative impact on mood and emotional well-being. According to Harvard University’s Division of Sleep Medicine (3), lack of sleep impacts an individual’s mood and mood disorders contribute to lack of sleep. For example, a loved one with an anxiety disorder might sleep less and feel more anxious throughout the day as a result of sleep deprivation.

Harvard University (2) explains that certain mood disorders and mental health disorders are actually caused by lack of sleep or the symptoms worsen when an individual is not sleeping well. In particular, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, ADHD and certain forms of depression relate to chronic sleep deprivation. If an individual is not sleeping well, then he or she is more likely to develop a mood disorder.

Improving Sleep

The National Institutes on Health (4) explain that individuals with a mental health disorder are twice as likely as the general population to use and abuse drugs or alcohol. By improving an individual’s sleep, it is possible to improve the situation and reduce the symptoms of the disorder.

Ways to improve sleep include:

  • Avoiding stimulants, including caffeine
  • Setting up a routine before bed
  • Eating earlier in the evening
  • Exercising each day
  • Following a sleep schedule

Harvard University (5) explains that a routine helps prepare the body and mind for sleep. Furthermore, eating a light meal prevents indigestion, which impacts personal sleep habits.

A healthy body and mind requires regular sleep. By sleeping six to eight hours each night, the body can heal at a cellular level and an individual has a lower risk of developing mood disorders or mental health disorders.


  1. Camille Peri, What Lack of Sleep Does to your Mind, Web MD, April 30, 2013
  2. Sleep and Mental Health, Harvard University, July 1, 2009,
  3.  Harvard University’s Division of Sleep Medicine, Sleep and Mood, December 15, 2008,
  4. The National Institutes on Health, Severe Mental Illness Tied to Higher Rates of Substance Abuse, January 3, 2014,
  5. Harvard University’s Division of Sleep Medicine, Twelve Simple Tips to Improve Your Sleep, December 18, 2007,

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