We all appreciate the benefits of waking up refreshed, focused and relaxed after a good night’s sleep. We also know how quickly a bad night’s sleep can affect our wellbeing. Tiredness resulting from poor sleep isn’t just unpleasant — it can seriously interfere with your wellbeing and affect mood, memory, concentration and even your immune system.
People have studied sleep for centuries. Today, we have a very good understanding of just how crucial sleep is to your mental health. Even so, many aspects of brain function during the sleep cycle and how it affects our wellbeing are not fully understood.
To that end, here are five mental health benefits of a sleep (that you may not have known about).
1) Better sleep improves your memory
Humans have two forms of memory, known as declarative memories and procedural memories.
- Declarative memories are things we remember like facts, names, shopping lists, street addresses, phone numbers, etc.
- Procedural memories are things like driving a car, typing on a computer, your morning shower routine, etc.
A vital component of sleep is the way it affects our ability to retain and process both forms of memory. After a bad night, this goes a long way toward explaining why we feel wrecked. It’s not just that we have trouble concentrating at work the next day — we’re also more likely to do silly things like forget lunch at home or accidentally leave the car unlocked.
2) Better sleep may help you deal with trauma
As mentioned, sleep performs a fundamental role in how we process and ‘store away’ memories. Since traumatic experiences can affect memory (for instance, in what are referred to as flashbacks), the quality of sleep likely affects our capacity to cope with trauma.
Evidence supporting this was found in an unusual study of former prisoners of war. Being captured in war is inherently traumatic and this study sought to find out how former prisoners coped after returning. Measured over a 37-year period, the researchers found that quality sleep was the factor most closely linked with mental resilience.
3) Better sleep can improve your problem solving
Try to think back to a time when you had trouble finishing a report, fixing something, filling out your tax, writing an essay, etc. If you decided to leave it for the night, it’s possible that the solution may have “jumped out” at you the next day, or else seemed easier and clearer when you resumed.
The brain’s ability to store and process memory through sleep affects your capacity to solve problems. While the exact brain mechanism through which the brain does this isn’t entirely understood, it does suggest that there’s a lot more to the expression “sleep on it” than we think.
4) Better sleep may indirectly help reduce chronic disease
People who live with chronic diseases like arthritis, asthma, chronic pain, diabetes or stroke are at greater risk of developing mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. This is hardly surprising given how much chronic diseases can interfere with daily life, from reducing income to limiting a person’s ability to get out and participate socially. Indeed, throughout northern Queensland diabetes is a factor in numerous preventable hospitalisations.
According to one 2010 study, poor sleep was linked to higher rates of inflammation. This is a risk factor for chronic illness like stroke and heart disease. Better sleep, therefore, is indirectly linked to lower risk of chronic disease.
5) Better sleep may reduce the likelihood of bipolar disorder
Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder that affects 8 per cent of Australians. It can cause a bad night’s sleep with all its associated ill effects, from poor concentration to irritability.
The effects of this sleeping disorder, however, may extend to more than just grogginess and feeling “out of it” the next day. According to one study, people living with sleep apnea were two to three times more likely to receive a diagnosis for bipolar disorder.
Curiously, one researcher suggested that a number of people with sleep apnea could have been incorrectly diagnosed with bipolar disorder. More research is probably needed to establish the precise relationship between the two. However, the fact that people suffering from poor sleep may have been incorrectly diagnosed with bipolar disorder shows just how drastic the effects of poor sleep can be on mental health.
Need help? You can find support services in northern Queensland or complete a self-administered K10 test for depression and anxiety. You can also join the online mental health forum to talk with like-minded people.