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Sleep Quality and Mental Health: What the Data Says

If you're feeling like your mood is due in part to what happens when you close your eyes each night, then this article will be a must-read for you. Chances are you're already convinced that your sleep routine is important, but most people don't know how much of an impact a sleep-deprived lifestyle can have on mental health.

In the United States an estimated 25 million individuals suffer from mental disorders each year; approximately 80% of them are women. Poor sleep quality has been associated with developing a mental disorder in other studies. However, it is not known if poor sleep is a cause or a consequence of mental disorders and whether this association differs by gender. Nevertheless, common knowledge suggests that sleep is very important to physical and mental wellbeing.

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A recent study found that poor sleep quality significantly increases the risk of developing a mental disorder, with even moderate levels of sleep problems increasing the risk by 2.5 folds. Poor sleep quality has been shown to have significant effects on every aspect in life - mood, memory, and energy levels - but its effects on mental health were particularly concerning for the researchers. The authors ponder how treatments for these disorders could possibly be improved if it is proven that better sleep can combat them. The study also found that women who live alone are at an increased risk of developing poor quality sleep due to domestic labor demands, or working night shifts or taking care of family members with psychiatric or developmental disorders.

Sleep deprivation affects your mood and cognitive function. Studies have shown that the longer someone has been awake, the worse they fare on all measures of attention and mental agility. Sleep deprivation can also lead to insomnia, which in turn leads to feelings of depression and isolation - especially for those who suffer from chronic stress or other conditions like PTSD.

Most importantly, a lack of sleep will make it more difficult for anyone to cope with their difficulties in life and may even worsen their symptoms. It is always better to make sleep a priority than to try and "power through" the day when you feel exhausted. That said, not all sleep is created equal. While all of us require 7-8 hours of restful slumber, what we do in that time can vary greatly from person to person and from night to night. It's important to develop a sleep routine that addresses your individual needs and helps every night be as restful and stress-free as possible.

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What is needed for a good sleep?

A good night of sleep begins with consistency. Having a regular bedtime and wake time is vital to keep your body clock in tune, especially when you're trying to adjust your sleep cycle. Establishing a routine will also help you know when you are tired or becoming overtired, helping you make healthy decisions throughout the day. In general, running on little to no sleep will take its toll over time - but there are also ways you can expedite the process. For example, it's possible to counteract the effects of sleep deprivation quickly by using light therapy at optimum times throughout the day.

If you were to use a regular light box every night (1 hour of exposure in 20 minutes) you would get a total exposure of 1,000 lux (this amount is common among migraine and photic neuritis sufferers). The idea is that when your eyes have been exposed to sufficient light during the daytime, the optic nerve will adjust its activity levels and reduce your peaks of sensitivity to nocturnal blue light. This makes it easier for you to transition into deeper stages of sleep, allowing your body clock to follow suit.


Sleeping is also incredibly individualistic. Your body clock will tell you how long to sleep and when you can get up. Many people have their own personal nightly schedule that works for them, but for whatever reason, life may occasionally throw some stress our way. If you have a hard time falling asleep at night or staying asleep across several days, addressing your sleep schedule is a great idea.

The best way to find out how much sleep your body needs is by using a light wristband. It collects light data while in use and measures the amount of light exposure throughout the night. An average person will use this device every two hours in bed. For most people, the amount of light exposure they receive during the day correlates with how long they sleep at night. The longer your body is exposed to light, the shorter you are likely to sleep. At times these two variables may seem inconsistent, but over time you should see a pattern emerge.


Factors that Affect Sleep Quality

It's a no-brainer; sleep is more comfortable when it's warm. In general, sleepers prefer a room temperature anywhere between 60-68 degrees Fahrenheit. Extreme heat or cold can lead to uncomfortable nights and may interfere with the quality of your slumber.

Do you have trouble sleeping? Before you resort to visiting your doctor and potentially filling a prescription for sleep aids, take a good, hard look at your sleep environment. The size and position of your bed, the temperature of the room, and the activities that take place in the bedroom all have a big impact on the quality of your sleep.

Here are some specifics:

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  • If you're sleeping with another person, try to ensure that each partner gets his or her own space.

  • If you're forced to share a bed with someone who tosses and turns all night, then it's possible that your discomfort is preventing you from getting as much rest as possible.

  • If you're sharing a bed with a partner and you're both hoping to make it through the night, try moving your mattress to another location. Consider putting it against the wall so that your partner's movements don't bother you as much.

  • If you share a bed with a partner and still aren't getting enough sleep because of his or her snoring, then this is definitely something to take up with your physician. Snoring is one of the most common sleep disorders in adults (and can even affect children). It's estimated that 30% of adults experience some kind of snoring issue. Speak with your doctor if you suspect that your partner won't be willing to make any changes on their end.

The saying goes that “sleep is for the winners.” The next time you feel like you don't have time for a good night's sleep, remember that the alternative is always worse.

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