Three (even more) surprising mental health benefits of sleep

Sleep is an essential biological process that has been observed in almost all animals. Quality sleep is also crucial to good mental health.

  • Sleep is essential to good mental health. Mental health problems arising from sleep deprivation may include depression, anxiety, anger, irritability, mood swings and more.
  • Trauma and sleep may be closely related. In one study, people who reported better sleep long after a traumatic event were also more likely to report better mental health.
  • Sleep apnea and mental health may also be closely related. In fact, people experiencing sleep apnea may have a higher rate of bipolar disorder.

Quality sleep is one of the most vital things you can do for your wellbeing. In fact, sleep is an essential biological process that has been observed in almost all animals.

In humans, sleep has many crucial physiological and psychological functions which directly affect mood, memory, attention, decision making and many other aspects of mental health.

Sleep quality also affects many biological processes. Among them are the function of the immune system, pain tolerance and your capacity to recover from injury. Poor sleep may even be correlated with a higher chance of early death (although, surprisingly, so too may excessive sleep).


Mental health benefits of sleep

An incredibly complex set of physiological processes occur throughout the brain and the body when we sleep. In fact, it’s so complex that the exact way in which many important benefits of sleep affect brain function are not yet fully understood.

We know that a good night’s sleep makes you feel better. However, it is only through detailed research and observation that we know about some of the really specific benefits of sleep, especially when mental health is concerned.

For instance, did you know that sleep may indirectly help prevent conditions that cause chronic disease? Or that good sleep can improve memory? These were among the points highlighted in this story: Three surprising mental health benefits of sleep.

There are many more reasons to get better sleep. Here are three (even more) surprising mental health benefits of sleep.


1) Sleep may assist with recovery from trauma

In psychology, trauma is defined as damage or harm to the mind resulting from highly distressing events. Given that sleep is fundamental to the way in which the brain processes and stores memories, it’s not surprising that sleep may also have a strong influence on how people deal with trauma.

In one unusual study, former prisoners of war were observed over a 37-year period. The researchers found that the strongest predictor (meaning something that is closely correlated) of mental resilience was sleep.

Admittedly, trauma may in itself interfere with sleep for some people. However, the evidence suggests that trauma recovery and sleep are related — and that quality sleep is crucial to processing and ultimately coping with trauma.


2) Sleep can help your creativity

You’ll often feel brighter after a good night’s rest, right? In fact, our previous article on the mental health benefits of sleep highlighted how sleep improved attention, memory and learning ability.

This is not surprising when you consider just how essential sleep is to processing events and experiences into memories. What is also not surprising then is that sleep can affect many other brain functions — like creativity.

Have you ever gone to bed after feeling frustrated or getting stuck on something — such as writing a report, filling out an application, or fixing something? Then you woke up the next day and ‘saw’ the solution with ease?

Sleep helps with creativity in that it allows the brain to ‘reset’ and revaluate problems. As with the relationship between sleep and memory, the precise way in which this happens is not fully understood. However, you can rest assured that there is a lot of truth behind the expression “sleep on it”.


3) Poor sleep is associated with bipolar disorder

Everyone who has endured sleep deprivation knows just how easily small irritations can blow up and get out of hand. Indeed, poor sleep is associated with an increased likelihood of depression.

However, the ill effects of poor sleep may go beyond that. According to one study, people with sleep apnea (a common sleep disorder) “were two to three times more likely to receive a bipolar disorder diagnosis as compared to people without sleep apnea.” It’s worth noting, however, that  according to one Australian researcher, some people experiencing sleep apnea may have been incorrectly diagnosed with bipolar.

Again, the exact brain mechanism that affects how poor sleep is related to mental health isn’t fully understood. However, the fact that the physical and psychological symptoms of sleep apnea can lead to an incorrect diagnosis of bipolar disorder shows just how much sleep deprivation can affect wellbeing and mental health.


If you or someone you know is struggling and want to speak to a professional counsellor, SuicideLine Victoria is available 24/7. Call us on 1300 651 251.

If it is an emergency, call 000.

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