Sleep, the Simplest Mental Health Life Hack: 3 Ways Sleep Affects Your Mental Health


When I see someone for the first time in psychotherapy, and they talk about overwhelming anxiety, one of the first questions I always ask them is “How much sleep are you getting?” And almost always, it’s not enough.

We are a sleep-deprived culture. Some would even call it a public health problem. When I ask someone why they aren’t sleeping enough the answers usually revolve around 1) demanding work schedules; 2) addictions to their screens; 3) raising young children; 4) but also a lack of understanding of how important sleep is to one’s health and mental health.

Because of this lack of understanding, I thought a post about the importance of sleep was in order. Since this is mostly a mental health blog, I’m going to focus on how a lack of sleep profoundly affects our mood in ways we can’t always be aware of in the moment. So here are 3 reasons why should all be striving to sleep enough each night.


1) Your Anxiety is High

People often overlook the simplest answer because it seems too easy. But in my experience, if a person has been feeling very anxious, a large percentage of the time they aren’t sleeping enough!

This just isn’t anecdotal evidence either:

"Neuroscientists have found that sleep deprivation fires up areas of the brain associated with emotional processing. The resulting pattern mimics the abnormal neural activity seen in anxiety disorders."

So the next time you feel off or anxious and you can’t figure out why maybe it’s time to look at how much sleep you’re getting.


2) You’re Depressed

Depression and lack of sleep go hand and hand. There is no direct evidence that lack of sleep causes depression per se, but the correlations are many. In fact, recent studies show that people’s depression can dissolve once their insomnia is cured:

"The new report, from a team at Ryerson University in Toronto, found that 87 percent of patients who resolved their insomnia in four biweekly talk therapy sessions also saw their depression symptoms dissolve after eight weeks of treatment, either with an antidepressant drug or a placebo pill — almost twice the rate of those who could not shake their insomnia. Those numbers are in line with a previous pilot study of insomnia treatment at Stanford."

So the next time you’re feeling down or off, it might be time to look at your sleep habits.

3) You're Cranky and Impulsive

Did you just snap at your partner for good reason? Or yell at your kid over a minor incident? There’s a decent chance that you haven’t been sleeping enough. This can lead to strain in all of your important relationships. In fact, neuroscience seems to back this up:

"Some research suggests that sleep deprivation enhances negative mood due to increased amygdala activity (a brain structure integral to experiences of negative emotions such as anger and rage) and a disconnect between the amygdala and the area of the brain that regulates its functions. In other words: sleep loss leads to increased negative mood, and decreased ability to regulate that anger!"

It’s not that sleep causes anger per se, but moreso that lack of sleep doesn’t allow a person to regulate their emotions as well. And this might mean you explode over a situation where you’d normally be just fine.

I’m a psychotherapist in Brooklyn, NY. Please contact me at atsheringlcsw@gmail .com for either an in-person or Skype consultation. 

Anger: Taming a Powerful Emotion
By Gary Chapman