Improving Your Mental Health With Good Sleep

CPPA Students
6 min readNov 1, 2022
Photo by Kate Stone Matheson on Unsplash.

By: Alexander Korski

This blog has been reviewed by Alvina Lai and Elijah Nimijean; edited, formatted and published by Nicholas Murray.

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Everyone knows how important a good night’s sleep is. Given how frequently we remind each other of this, it is rather ironic that so many people — especially students — suffer from poor sleeping habits. Many of us continue to repeat the mantra “I need to get more sleep” without knowing much about what affects sleep and why it is important, other than the fact that it is an important aspect of our health. Sleep psychology offers insight into this issue. While the ultimate goal of sleep psychology is to address sleeping disorders, it reveals a great deal about how sleep relates to our mental health. This knowledge is useful to anyone, regardless of whether or not they are affected by a sleep disorder.

A recent study during the pandemic introduced students to a range of positive psychology interventions, and found significantly greater increases in wellbeing in students who slept more.¹ This seems like a straightforward result, but I believe many people could stand to take its implications to heart. Even if you fill your day with healthy habits and mindful practices, your pursuit of wellbeing and improved psychological health will become stunted if you do not take ample time to recharge at night. Such a violation of behaviour predicted by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, in which humans innately pursue physiological needs before any others, diminishes the development of higher needs like self-esteem.²

Another important element of sleep deprivation is its bidirectional relationship with many psychiatric disorders.³ For example, having depression can disrupt your sleep, but a poor sleep schedule can also increase your risk of developing depression. Observation of mentally healthy university students with good sleeping habits has revealed that, over time, sleep length and number of sleep disruptions are differentially related to symptoms of psychological distress.⁴

One big takeaway here is the prospect of sleep-based preventative measures. Life circumstances such as university can cause poor sleeping habits to creep up on even the healthiest individuals. This means that correcting your sleep, once you start noticing that it is seriously affecting your mood and cognitive functioning, can help you get a head start on improving your mental health before it develops into something more serious. Ironically, it is also worth noting that sleep deprivation has also been observed to produce anti-depressant effects, suggesting a complex relationship between sleep and depression that has yet to be fully understood.¹³ Disclaimer: we do not recommend pursuing this method without the guidance of a clinician — for most, a good night’s sleep is still your best bet.

Knowing why sleep is important is one thing, but understanding what constitutes good sleep is a different question altogether. Ignorance, myths, and pseudoscience are all capable of diluting our perspective on healthy sleep. Take a moment to test yourself now with the following true or false questions:

Questions

  1. True or False: Teenagers need more sleep than adults.
  2. True or False: Remembering your dreams means you slept well.
  3. True or False: Eating cheese before bed can affect sleep.
  4. True or False: You need less sleep as you get older.
  5. True or False: If you are having trouble sleeping, you should stay awake and do something else.
  6. True or False: You should not wake up a sleepwalker.
  7. True or False: Sustained sleep deprivation is more dangerous than starvation.
  8. True or False: Your brain quickly adapts to major changes in your sleep schedule.

Answers

  1. True. Teens require more sleep to support their growth.⁵
  2. False. You have dreams every night, and whether you remember them or not is not indicative of sleep quality. In fact, people who remember more of their dreams are also more likely to wake up during the night.⁶
  3. False. While there is much speculation about this claim, any effects unique to cheese are more likely explained by placebo or lactose intolerance.⁷ Overall, it is best not to eat anything large before bed so that digestion doesn’t affect your sleep. You should also mind your chemicals — caffeine, even if it is consumed in the afternoon, can disrupt your sleep later that night.¹⁴
  4. False. Age can affect your sleep in a number of ways, but it does not reduce the need for it.⁸
  5. True. Staying in bed when you can’t sleep runs the risk of developing an association between your bed and insomnia. Instead, try a low intensity activity, such as reading, until you feel drowsy. No screens, though.⁹ Similarly, avoid using your bed for tasks such as homework during the day. Force your brain to associate your bed with sleep.¹⁴
  6. False. While waking a sleepwalker can result in their surprise or aggression, this is rarely harmful. It is far more important to keep them safe and get them back to bed, and if this requires waking them up, do not be afraid to do so.¹⁰
  7. True. Going more than three days without sleep can cause hallucinations and other serious health risks, while going the same amount of time without food is not nearly as drastic.¹¹
  8. False. While this is different for everyone and depends on a number of factors, it is not uncommon for jet lag to affect sleep for up to a week.¹²

Despite your best efforts, life will often find a way to throw a curveball into your sleep schedule. Whether it takes the form of a trip halfway around the world or a late-night essay after a busy week, it is important to remember that such occasional disruptions are not indicative of the state of your overall mental health and sleep quality. Rather, these are influenced by healthy sleeping habits that you make an effort to pursue consistently. Consider reserving your bed for sleep and sex only. Cut down on screen time and heavy meals before bed, and avoid caffeine in the afternoon. Get eight hours of sleep during the same timeframe every night. These are strategies that work best when you make a habit of them. If you can form sleeping habits that are both consistent and healthy, an intermittent slip-up is manageable. Matthew Walker, a sleep scientist at Berkeley, says:

Stick to a sleep schedule . . . Often we set an alarm for when it’s time to wake up but fail to do so for when it’s time to go to sleep. If there is only one piece of advice you remember . . . this should be it.¹⁵

Thank you for reading my blog with the Canadian Positive Psychology Association. If you haven’t already, please consider getting your CPPA membership to join our wonderful community and check out our Student Zone. Plus, if you liked this blog or if it has helped you in any way, please take a moment to like, share, or comment.

References

  1. Lambert, L., Joshanloo, M., Marquez, J. M., Cody, B., Arora, T., Warren, M., Aguilar, L., Samways, M., & Teasel, S. (2022). Boosting student wellbeing despite a pandemic: Positive psychology interventions and the impact of sleep in the United Arab Emirates. International Journal of Applied Positive Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1007/s41042-022-00066-2
  2. Cherry, K. (2022, August 14). How maslow’s hierarchy of needs explains human motivation. Verywell Mind. Retrieved August 16, 2022, from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-maslows-hierarchy-of-needs-4136760
  3. Abad, V. C., & Guilleminault, C. (2005). Sleep and psychiatry. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 7(4), 291–303. https://doi.org/10.31887/dcns.2005.7.4/vabad
  4. Milojevich, H. M., & Lukowski, A. F. (2016). Sleep and mental health in undergraduate students with generally healthy sleep habits. PLOS ONE, 11(6). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0156372
  5. Sleep and teens. UCLA Health System. (n.d.). Retrieved August 14, 2022, from https://www.uclahealth.org/medical-services/sleep-disorders/patient-resources/patient-education/sleep-and-teens
  6. Eichenlaub, J.-B., Nicolas, A., Daltrozzo, J., Redouté, J., Costes, N., & Ruby, P. (2014). Resting brain activity varies with dream recall frequency between subjects. Neuropsychopharmacology, 39(7), 1594–1602. https://doi.org/10.1038/npp.2014.6
  7. Brown, J. (2021, November 17). Does cheese really give you vivid dreams? BBC Future. Retrieved August 14, 2022, from https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20211117-does-cheese-really-give-you-vivid-dreams
  8. Newsom, R. (2022, March 18). Aging and sleep: How does growing old affect sleep? Sleep Foundation. Retrieved August 14, 2022, from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/aging-and-sleep
  9. Can’t sleep? do this, not that! Sleep Education. (2021, May 5). Retrieved August 14, 2022, from https://sleepeducation.org/cant-sleep-do-this-not-that/
  10. True or false: Never wake a Sleepwalker. Winchester Hospital. (n.d.). Retrieved August 14, 2022, from https://www.winchesterhospital.org/health-library/article?id=157000
  11. Raypole, C. (2020, April 28). Can you die from lack of sleep? here’s what we know. Healthline. Retrieved August 14, 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/health/can-you-die-from-lack-of-sleep
  12. Jet lag: What is it, symptoms, how long does it last & treatment. Cleveland Clinic. (2021, June 13). Retrieved August 14, 2022, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/12781-jet-lag
  13. Richter, G. (2017, September 19). Sleep Deprivation is an Effective Anti-depressant for Nearly Half of Depressed Patients. Penn Medicine News. Retrieved September 10, 2022, from https://www.pennmedicine.org/news/news-releases/2017/september/sleep-deprivation-is-an-effective-antidepressant-for-nearly-half-of-depressed-patients
  14. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. (2020, August). Healthy Sleep Habits. Sleep Education. Retrieved September 10, 2022, from https://sleepeducation.org/healthy-sleep/healthy-sleep-habits/
  15. Walker, M. (2017). Appendix. In Why we sleep. Scribner.

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CPPA Students

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