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📚Why Sleep Is Key to Your Mental Health

A good night's sleep is something we often take for granted or forget about in favor of a night out with friends or an all-night study session. We'll grab a few hours here and there whenever we can, relying on caffeine to keep us moving through our busy lifestyles, but some new research has shown that you're not just going through life tired if you live like that — you may also be putting your mental health at risk. Why is sleep a key component of your mental health?

How Much Sleep Do You Need?

Before we start talking about sleep deprivation, how much sleep doesn't the average adult actually need in order to stay healthy?

It really depends on your age, as well as your activity level throughout the day. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the average adult between the ages of 18 and 64 needs between 7-9 hours of sleep to function and remain healthy. This is a pretty wide range if you consider the fact that there are people who can function perfectly well on 7 hours of sleep while there are others who feel like they can't do anything unless they get the full 9 recommended hours.

Symptom or Cause?

When you look at the symptoms of depression and other mental illnesses, insomnia is usually one of the highest-ranking symptoms but a new study from the University of Oxford has found a more direct connection between the two. Instead of being just a symptom of depression, insomnia might actually be the cause.

Insomnia isn't limited to depression either. It can also play a big role in the kinds of mental health experiences that cause paranoia and hallucinations. This can also make it more difficult for us to manage our emotions. A University of Washington professor explains it best, but in essence, emotional control is contingent on two parts of the brain — the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex — working together in unison. Sleep deprivation interferes with that cooperation, which makes it more difficult to manage emotions.

The Dangers of Sleep Deprivation

Sleep deprivation is dangerous for more than just your mental health. Not getting enough sleep at night (or during the day if you're on a night-shift schedule) can have all sorts of detrimental effects. Some studies have found that sleep deprivation can cause high blood pressure, or make the problem worse if you've got already high blood pressure. When paired with mental health concerns, sleep deprivation and blood pressure become even more concerning. Loneliness, which can be a side effect of mental illness and symptoms like insomnia, can lead to more severe issues like substance abuse and addiction as well.

It can cause weight gain because if you don't get enough sleep your body doesn't produce enough leptin, the hormone that regulates your appetite.

It can even impair your judgment, making casual tasks like driving and operating equipment even more dangerous. Driving after you've been awake for 24 hours is equivalent to a 0.10 blood alcohol level, at least in terms of judgment impairment and reflex slowing. For comparison, the legal limit in most states is 0.08.

The best advice we can offer here is not to drive sleepy and try your very best to get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep a night. What can you do to get a better night's sleep?

How to Get Better Sleep

Getting a good night's sleep might seem impossible if you're prone to insomnia, but there are some things that you can do to make it a little bit easier to get those Z's.

Start by shutting off all your technology around two hours before bed. The blue light emitted by most electronic device screens can interfere with your body's circadian rhythm. You might think it's time for bed but if you're still scrolling through social media on your phone, your body won't start producing melatonin because of the blue light from the screen.

Set up a nightly routine and start sticking to it. It sounds silly, like something you'd set up for a child, but there's a reason that bedtime routines work. It's a signal to your body that it's time to start winding down for the night, so it stops producing the hormones that keep you awake and starts producing the ones that make you sleep.

If this doesn't work or you're still experiencing poor and broken sleep, or insomnia, talk to your doctor about your options. They may have some other suggestions or may prescribe a sleep aid to help you get enough sleep at night.

Looking Toward the Future

We might take the act of getting a good night's sleep for granted but for many people, it's a luxury that they don't get to enjoy. If you're having trouble sleeping, whether it's due to mental health or other concerns, make it a point to talk to your doctor. They might be able to help you finally find the tools that make it possible for you to shake insomnia for good.

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