Can your mental health be affected by your bedtime? We all know the age old mandate about “early to bed, early to rise,” and “get your 6-8 hours every night,” and so on, but how much does your bedtime matter?
Beware of sleep deprivation
First, let’s talk about not getting enough sleep and your mental health. It’s common knowledge that sleep deprivation can impact the quality of your mental health and psychological state, as sleep and mental well-being go hand in hand.
Experts will tell you that if you frequently feel sleepy throughout the day or experience what are known as “microsleeps” (i.e., briefly drifting off into a light doze throughout the day, even momentarily), then sleep-deprivation or a sleep disorder may be something you need to look into. Other signs that you’re not getting enough sleep include: trouble falling asleep (i.e., insomnia), not waking up feeling rested, pounding coffee, tea, soda, or energy drinks to get through the day, fighting to stay awake while driving or during normal activities like watching a movie, trouble with your memory, waking up in the wee hours of the morning and then having trouble going back to sleep (a.k.a., terminal insomnia).
Some facts about problematic sleep and mental health follow.
- Problematic sleeping is a sign of depression. Problematic sleep is a common symptom of depression, and it also contributes to it. From 65 to 90 percent of adults (and about 90 percent of children) in the U.S. with clinical depression are likely to have some degree of difficulty getting a good night’s sleep. Usually, the problem is insomnia, but about 20 percent of problematic sleepers have problems with sleep apnea. Hypersomnia (e.g., severe fatigue throughout the day) is also commonly reported by individuals with depression.
- Concerns regarding sleep are more likely to affect individuals with mental health problems. Ongoing problematic sleep affects between 50 to 80 percent of those with mental disorders and from 10 to 18 percent of adults in the U.S. Treating a sleep disorder may help mitigate the effects of depressive symptoms, and vice versa.
- Anxiety and problematic sleep are often co-occurring. Disordered sleep affects more than half of adults with generalized anxiety disorder and is also typical among those with bipolar disorder, panic disorder, phobic disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Anxiety can also fuel problematic sleep, taking the form of nightmares and/or insomnia, while sleep deprivation can increase the risk for the individual to develop an anxiety disorder.
Bigger answers for bigger bedtime questions
Now… Here’s a deeper question. If you get enough hours of sleep in, does it matter what time you go to bed?
The human body produces a wide range of molecular processes, including hormone levels and core body temperature, as well as sleeping and waking up. It is impacted by genes as well as many lifestyle factors including exposure to artificial light, jobs, activities, and diet.
A 2018 broad genetics study conducted by researchers at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom reports that individuals who are genetically inclined to wake up early are linked to a greater sense of being content with life, and with a lowered risk for depression and schizophrenia.
The researchers found results indicating that if you’re a “night owl,” chances are good that you could be at greater risk to develop some sort of mental health issue. Night owls have a tendency to constantly push back against their own bodies’ natural clock, which can be exhausting, especially for those who have to be at work or school early in the morning.
Good news for all the evening types out there, however. Though previous research linked poor sleeping habits to a higher risk for obesity and diabetes, this newest research did not find any links between these health issues and body clock genes.
It’s noteworthy that this new research underscores the need for further study of the link between someone’s genetic disposition to being an early versus a late riser and his or her mental health.
So I can just start going to bed earlier, right?
Can you just start going to bed and waking up earlier? Well, it’s not that simple. You have what’s known as a chronotype, also known as your tendency to fall asleep and rise at a certain time, and this is largely determined genetically.
Differences between early and late risers have to do with differences in the ways our brains react to external light signals as well as the normal functioning of our internal clocks. There’s not a lot to be done to change this.
There are some things you can do, however if you’re a night owl and want to get in the habit of hitting the sack earlier in order to arise earlier the next morning. It may take a week or two for your body clock to adapt to the change in schedule.
- Be consistent. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every night and day.
- Try going to bed an hour or two earlier, though this may not always be realistic.
- Do something consistently every single night before bed, like taking a hot shower, brushing your teeth, reading with a dim light on, doing some gentle yoga stretches, or practicing some mindful breathing meditation.
- Avoid alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine after about 4-6 p.m.
- Get out into the natural light throughout the day, and get some exercise in (at least 30 minutes) at some point every day. Three 10-minute exercise sessions spread out through the day are just as effective as one 30-minute session.
- Use your bedroom only for sleep; avoid having a desk or keeping a laptop in your room, and avoid using your cellphone right before bed as much as possible.
Are you anxious about your lack of sleep? Is your lack of sleep making your depression and/or anxiety worse? Depression and anxiety are both treatable, and their treatment usually leads to a better night’s sleep. If you or someone close to you need to talk to someone about mental health issues that seem overwhelming, we can help. Consider reaching out to our expert team at Solara Mental Health at 844-600-9747.