How Sleep and Mental Health Are Linked

Sleep can consume a third or more of our daily lives. Every person will require different amounts of sleep throughout their lifetime. Adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep per night, but children will need between nine and thirteen hours. Mental health and sleep are closely connected and affect each other. Anyone who has missed a whole night’s sleep can relate to its effect on your psychological state and ability to function normally.

Mental health can impact sleep, too. People suffering from mental health problems are much more likely to also have some form of sleep disorder. (i) With this in mind, it is crucial to understand the impact that a lack of sleep can have on our health and well-being.

Sleep and mental health affect each other

Sleep has a large part to play in maintaining positive mental and physical health. Unfortunately, our normal sleep-cycle can be thrown off balance for one reason or another. Not getting enough sleep can make you feel exhausted the next day, but it also carries some long-term risks. Sleep deprivation has been linked to depression, heart disease and other illnesses by research.

The relationship between sleep and mental health is complicated. Researchers understand that mental health problems like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder could trigger sleep disorders. However, the relationship may not be a one-way street. However, the relationship may not be a one-way street. Research has suggested that sleep may play a large part in developing and sustaining different mental health problems in recent years. (ii)

The overlap between sleep disorders and mental health problems is enormous. Sleep disorders can trigger changes in a person’s mental health, including the worsening of mental health conditions that were already there.

Stress and insomnia

Not getting enough sleep can make it hard to cope with even small amounts of stress. This will be familiar to anyone who has missed a night of sleep and struggled the next day.

Sleep deprivation can make minor, daily annoyances turn into significant sources of stress. Not being able to get to sleep can even become a source of stress itself. Sometimes, even though you know a good night’s sleep is essential, getting to sleep is interrupted by anxiety about not falling asleep.

Depression and insomnia

The most common sleep disorder is insomnia. Insomnia is where a person regularly has trouble getting a whole night of restful sleep. (iii)

Insomnia can be a symptom of depression, but recent studies have found that depression can also be caused by lack of sleep. When analysing more than twenty studies, researchers found that people with insomnia were two times more likely to develop depression than people who did not have problems sleeping. (iv)

The research shows us that treating insomnia as quickly as possible can reduce the risk of developing depression. Treatments for insomnia might become an effective tool for treating or even preventing other mental health problems one day.

In another study, researchers looked at thousands of people and how poor sleep affected their symptoms of depression, anxiety and paranoia. When a group received Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for their insomnia, researchers found a vast reduction in the depression, paranoia, anxiety and even nightmares experienced by participants. Not only were their mental health problems improved, but the study group also reported improvements in their overall well-being. (v)


The harmful effects of sleep deprivation and its impact on our mental and emotional health are well-understood. Not getting the sleep you need can be either a symptom or a consequence of a mental health problem. Likewise, sleep disorders may cause or play a role in the onset of mental health problems, such as depression.

How the brain works is not fully understood yet and our understanding of the relationship between sleep and mental health is still growing. Using brain-chemistry and scans of how the brain works, recent research suggests that a good night’s sleep can improve our emotional and mental flexibility.

Addressing sleep disorders in the early stages can help to protect your mental health and wellness. Sleep patterns and mental health have a circular relationship and affect each other. It is a good idea to talk to your doctor if you are experiencing problems falling asleep or staying asleep.


  1. Harvard Health Publishing (2019). Sleep and mental health – Harvard Health. [online] Harvard Health. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/sleep-and-mental-health [Accessed 26 Mar. 2021].
  2. Scott, A.J., Webb, T.L. and Rowse, G. (2017). Does improving sleep lead to better mental health? A protocol for a meta-analytic review of randomised controlled trials. BMJ Open, [online] 7(9), p.e016873. Available at: https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/7/9/e016873 [Accessed 26 Mar. 2021].
  3. NHS Choices (2021). Insomnia. [online] Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/insomnia/ [Accessed 26 Mar. 2021].
  4. Baglioni, C., Battagliese, G., Feige, B., Spiegelhalder, K., Nissen, C., Voderholzer, U., Lombardo, C. and Riemann, D. (2011). Insomnia as a predictor of depression: A meta-analytic evaluation of longitudinal epidemiological studies. Journal of Affective Disorders, [online] 135(1-3), pp.10–19. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0165032711000292?via%3Dihub [Accessed 26 Mar. 2021].
  5. Freeman, D., Sheaves, B., Goodwin, G.M., Yu, L.-M., Nickless, A., Harrison, P.J., Emsley, R., Luik, A.I., Foster, R.G., Wadekar, V., Hinds, C., Gumley, A., Jones, R., Lightman, S., Jones, S., Bentall, R., Kinderman, P., Rowse, G., Brugha, T. and Blagrove, M. (2017). The effects of improving sleep on mental health (OASIS): a randomised controlled trial with mediation analysis. The Lancet Psychiatry, [online] 4(10), pp.749–758. Available at: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpsy/article/PIIS2215-0366(17)30328-0/fulltext [Accessed 26 Mar. 2021].

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