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9 Ways Sleep Impacts Your Mental Health

9 Ways Sleep Impacts Your Mental Health

Throwing his arms up in exasperation and frustration, my two-year-old let out a deafening scream before defiantly throwing his eggs onto the floor. No sooner had the eggs hit the ground before he threw his head into his small hands and burst into tears and, between sobs, told me, “Tired, Mama.” Only the lack of a nap and a restless sleep the night before can warrant such an extreme reaction to having to eat a few mouthfuls of scrambled eggs. 

It’s no great mystery that sleep impacts your mental health. If you’ve ever been around an overtired toddler, you know first-hand that regulating your emotions when sleep-deprived is extremely difficult. There’s a reason we ask our grumpy family members if they “woke up on the wrong side of the bed.”

You may already know that sleep deprivation impacts your energy level, mood, and weight. However, many of us didn’t realize just how deeply connected our sleep is with our mental health. Today we will talk about 9 ways sleep impacts your mental health.

Before we dive into our list, please note that your mental health and your sleep patterns are both complex issues affected by numerous factors. However, given their close association, there is strong reason to believe that improving sleep can benefit mental health.


1. Depression

1. Depression

Lack of sleep can contribute to feelings of depression. Depression is a type of mood disorder where people experience feelings of hopelessness or depression. 75% of people who struggle with depression show symptoms of insomnia. In addition, people with depression sometimes experience daytime sleepiness or hypersomnia, sleeping too much.


2. Hormone Disruptions

2. Hormone Disruptions

Lack of sleep will cause a chemical imbalance in your brain. Many of the most valuable chemicals in our brains are hormones. Our bodies are incredible and regulate and produce around 50 different hormones that act as chemical messengers to your brain. They impact our weight, mood, immunity, appetite, healing, and much more. 

Lack of sleep messes up the communication pathway between the brain and the messengers, causing our hormones to deliver misinformation to our bodies. This is a big component of why sleep deprivation poses a significant threat to our mental health.

If our hormones don’t bring the right information to our bodies, then our body is in trouble. Although sleep influences many hormones, cortisol (the stress hormone) has one of the most significant impacts on mental health.


3. Anxiety

Anxiety impacts around 20% of adults and 25% of teenagers in the United States. Anxiety causes excessive fear and worries that impact daily life. Some types of anxiety disorders include:

  • Social anxiety disorder
  • General anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Anxiety disorders are strongly connected to sleeping disorders. Fear and worry combine to get your mind racing, making it difficult for your body to relax and sleep.


4. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

4. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

This is a subcategory of depression that impacts people during certain times of the year. While most people experience SAD during the colder winter months, some people experience SAD in the summer too. This type of depression is closely linked to a person’s internal biological clock, which controls many bodily functions, including sleep. 


5. Slow Reaction Time

When you are sleepy, your reaction time slows down. This is a big problem when completing a task requiring a quick response (like driving). A sleep-deprived person is just as dangerous as a drunk person at the wheel.   

In addition, sleep deprivation slows information integration. This function of the mind is responsible for your gut feeling or split-second decisions. 


6. Impaired Memory

6. Impaired Memory

Sleep strengthens the nerve connections that create our memories when we sleep. According to Avelino Vercles, assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, “Sleep embeds the things we learn and experience in a day and translates into our short-term memory.” 

In addition, different phases of sleep play different roles in consolidating new information into memories. If you cut your sleep short, it interferes with these cycles.



Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) involves a reduced attention span and increased impulsiveness. While usually diagnosed in children, the diagnosis for adults is increasing. In addition, struggles with sleep are common in people with ADHD. Some symptoms include challenges falling asleep, daytime sleepiness, and frequent night wakings. 


8. Emotional Instability

8. Emotional Instability

Have you noticed that life seems harder when you have a particularly poor night of sleep? Small things irritate you, and little comments don’t slide off your back like they normally do. There’s actually a biological reason why that happens.  

Without going into too much detail, we need to talk about your brain’s amygdala and prefrontal context. The amygdala controls our emotional response. But to do its job, it requires us to sleep because, during that time, it processes our emotions. So if we miss vital sleep hours, our amygdala goes into overdrive. 

In addition, our prefrontal cortex takes a hit when we don’t sleep enough. While it does many things, one of its biggest jobs is being “the voice of reason” to our emotions when our amygdala is being a diva. It helps control our impulses. However, if we don’t get enough sleep, we aren’t giving our prefrontal cortex the tools it needs to perform its job properly. Again, it results in a communication breakdown making us more impulsive and less likely to think through our emotional reactions.


9. Difficulty Concentrating 

Sleep deprivation makes it harder to concentrate. In addition, it leads to lower alertness. This means it is harder to focus and pay attention and easier to get confused. In addition, sleep deprivation hinders your brain’s ability to perform logical reasoning or complex thought. Finally, it contributes to impaired judgment. All of the above things make decision-making more difficult because you can’t assess situations as well and pick the right behavior.


Let's Talk About It

Let’s Talk About It

Sleep deprivation can transform into a frustrating and vicious cycle that impacts you physically and mentally. That’s why, in honor of National Sleep Awareness Week, Racing for Mental Health is eager to contribute our voice to the conversation and talk about the importance of sleep in relation to your mental health. As always, we can’t wait to hear your thoughts, experiences, and ideas surrounding sleep patterns and mental health. So comment below or reach out to us today!   

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