Sleep and Mental Health: Importance of Good Sleep to Mental Well-Being

Every year, on the 10th of October, the World Health Organization (WHO) and World Federation for Mental Health raise awareness about the importance of mental health while providing a platform for mental health professionals to talk about their work and efforts to support those suffering from mental health conditions.

One of the most important factors influencing overall mental health is sleep. Sleep affects our overall mood and mental health in a number of ways and in this article, we emphasize the importance of good sleep to mental health and include key insights from Dr. Verena Senn, Neurobiologist and Head of Sleep Research at Emma – The Sleep Company on the connection between sleep and mental health.

Importance of good sleep to mental health

Sleep is an essential bodily process. Just like eating, drinking, and breathing—we must sleep in order for our body to function and keep us alive. It goes without saying that sleep is vital for our physical and psychological well-being.

Based on recent study findings done by Emma – The  Sleep Company, which included a total of 2000 male and female respondents with an age range of 18 to 64 years from Germany, the United Kingdom, France and the Netherlands, sleep is perceived as a priority and the activity that contributes most to their well-being, along with doing sports activities, eating well and social time.

When we sleep, our brains are hard at work processing the day’s information, activating and boosting our immune systems, and producing vital growth hormones to ensure our bodies are rested, recovered and ready for the next day. Not getting enough sleep can exacerbate mental health problems like depression and anxiety by making it increasingly difficult to deal with stressful situations and everyday life problems.

Dr. Verena Senn, Neurobiologist and Head of Sleep Research at Emma – The Sleep Company, explains how sleep is vital for our well-being:

“At night, we reactivate emotional experiences, integrate them into already existing memory structures and thus process them effectively. This is enormously important after traumatic experiences to prevent trauma sequelae, but also for our everyday experiences and moods. People who get enough sleep are more emotionally balanced, have better mood, are calmer, and show more motivation and commitment as they have a better ability to regulate and evaluate their emotions. Sleep is the backbone of psychological resilience.”

Dreaming contributes to better emotional health

Dreams are an important factor in emotional health for many people. It is now known that dreams occur during all stages of sleep. However, the most vivid and bizarre dreams occur during REM (“rapid eye movement”) sleep, when the body is paralyzed but the brain is highly active. During this phase, the EEG, or electrical impulses that provide a restricted view of brain activity, resembles that of the waking brain due to memory processing, learning, emotional processing and emotional regulation. For instance, REM sleep interrupts the production of cortisol, a chemical compound related to stressful experiences. In the meanwhile, emotion and memory-related brain regions become reactivated. This process allows a stress-free recollection of unpleasant memories and events. As a result, REM sleep can help us dissolve the emotional charge from traumatic events we have had during the day.

Dr. Verena Senn further shares: “Dreaming is important to process emotions that you had during the day and contributes to the consolidation of memories with great emotional load like a problem-solving mechanism that stimulates the real-world when we sleep. It is important for us to get the right amount of good sleep, to be able to have a good dream experience that starts when we enter light sleep to deep sleep until we reach the pivotal REM sleep stage, when our brains become more active in processing unresolved emotional waking-life experiences that strongly contributes to emotional memory consolidation.”

Balancing social life and sleep is key to a healthy mind and body

Sleep allows us to be at our best socially, mentally and physically. Not to be underestimated is the task of finding the right balance between sleep and social life. Otherwise, we run the risk of social jet lag. This is the name given to a disturbance of the internal clock that occurs when we get too little sleep to meet social or professional obligations. Our body actually wants to switch off and get the sleep it needs to recover. But our social circumstances prevent us from meeting those needs, and we most likely postpone and shorten our sleep time.

Dr. Verena Senn: “Sleep is a natural mood booster. When you get adequate sleep each night, you wake up being the best version of yourself, giving your mind and body the time it needs to recharge and wake up feeling refreshed. Think of getting optimal sleep (at least 7-9 hours a night) like recharging a battery. When the battery is fully charged, it has the positive energy and motivation it needs to perform well in all areas of life.”

Furthermore, during sleep our bodies start cleaning the by-products accumulated in the brain. For example, that beta-amyloid – a harmful substance present in our brains – was cleared out twice as quickly in sleeping mice’s brains as it did in waking mice’s brains. Therefore, lack of adequate sleep can lead to the accumulative presence of these toxic substances, resulting in severe mental health risks.

To summarize the importance of good sleep to mental health, which is highlighted and discussed during this annual period in October for World Mental Health Day, Dr. Verena Senn shares:

“As global efforts continue to tackle mental health issues for everyone in the world, especially during this pivotal time when the majority have been affected due to the ongoing pandemic, it is vital that we take care of ourselves by sleeping better. It’s important to dedicate more time to looking after our bodies and minds to keep our mental health in good condition.

When we take steps to improve our sleep, we’re making an effort to look after our mental health. Although everyone cannot be perfectly in control of whether they are doing well or not, with some people having genetic susceptibilities or predispositions for depression based on personal genetic makeup – it is in our power to take care of ourselves and know what’s best for us, to have achieve better mental health.”

To sleep better at night, it helps to have a relaxing environment with a comfortable bed and blanket to sleep with. Try the Emma Hug Weighted Blanket to help you fall asleep more easily. This weighted blanket has 7 layers of comfort that gives an overall sense of calm as the pressure, delivered by the several layers that make up the weighted blanket, can shift your body into “rest mode”, helping reduce anxiety symptoms that include increased heart rate and breathing.