The Sleep-Mental Health Connection: How Sleep Impacts Your Mental Well-being

<strong>The Sleep-Mental Health Connection: How Sleep Impacts Your Mental Well-being</strong>

You may enjoy hitting the snooze button a few times to catch those extra minutes of precious rest. Sleep is essential! And whenever you sleep well at night, you feel rested and ready to start your day. But did you know that sleep is fundamental for optimal mental well-being?

Sleep plays a critical role in optimizing mental health. Struggling with sleep makes it hard to regulate your emotions or navigate relationships. Medical and psychology experts say getting enough sleep is important.1 It helps our brains work better and helps us control our feelings.

The connection between sleep and mental health is twofold2

  1. Sleep deprivation affects your psychological state and mental health.
  2. People with mental health issues are likelier to have insomnia or other sleep disorders. 

In a nutshell, sleeping problems may cause and result in mental health concerns.

Sleep and Mental Health Issues

A Harvard Health study shows chronic sleep problems affect 50% to 80%3 of patients. Also, 10% to 18%3 of US adults with no mental health concerns have chronic sleep problems. So, there’s a definite connection between adequate sleep and mental wellness.

Sleep problems are widespread in patients with the following diagnoses4

Here are some ways sleep impacts your mental well-being:

Six ways how sleep impacts mental well being

  • Emotional regulation:  Getting enough sleep can help you better manage stress, anxiety, and emotional challenges. But being sleep-deprived can cause you to be emotionally reactive and irritable.5
  • Cognitive Functioning: Have you ever noticed that your short-term attention suffers after poor sleep? Sleep is crucial for cognitive processes such as attention, concentration, memory, and problem-solving. Getting enough sleep helps organize memories and recharges mental processes during the day. Inadequate sleep can impair cognitive performance, making concentrating and processing information harder.6
  • Creativity: Getting deep sleep allows the brain to process and make connections. This is a unique feature of deep sleep. Adequate deep sleep, translating to up to 25%7 of your total sleep time, can amp up your creativity and problem-solving abilities. Inadequate sleep can hinder these creative processes.
  • Decision Making: Not getting enough sleep can make it hard to make good choices.8 Even simple decisions can become harder, and you might end up making bad or risky choices.
  • Anxiety and depression: Not getting enough sleep can lead to a bad cycle where you feel more worried and sad. It can increase the chances of problems like feeling very down (depression) or having really high and low moods (bipolar disorder). These disorders and states of mind can impact your ability to fall and remain asleep. Sleep deprivation can exacerbate stress levels, impairing your ability to cope with daily challenges.9
  • Physical health issues. Poor sleep negatively affects physical health and well-being and vice versa. The CDC says that not getting enough sleep is linked to long-lasting health problems. These include being overweight, heart problems, type 2 diabetes, and feeling very sad (depression). These same health issues can also cause sleep problems and contribute to mental health issues.10

Individuals with an existing mental health diagnosis can also benefit from improved sleep. A study in 2021 showed that better sleep helps with mental health. This is true no matter how serious the mental health problem is.11

Neuroplasticity and Sleep

Even as adults, our brains are capable of growth and change. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to continue growing and evolving in response to life experiences. The brain changes and grows, making new nerves and connections.12‌This is called neuroplasticity. Getting enough sleep is very important for this. While we sleep, our brain gets rid of waste and strengthens the connections between nerve cells. This is really important for our brain to work best and for us to feel mentally healthy.

Stages of sleep

During a night of sleep, brain activity fluctuates during two primary sleep stages, both of which occur in cycles13:

  • REM sleep: Your brain activity picks up rapidly, which is why this stage is associated with more intense dreaming. This stage generally starts 90 minutes into your total sleep, and 
  • Non-REM sleep:  Your body is resting in this stage. Non-REM is split into a variety of smaller types of sleep that encourage relaxation and restorative processes for the body and the brain.

Each stage plays a role in brain and mental health. This allows activity in different parts of the brain to ramp up or down to enable improved function. Brain activity occurring during sleep affects emotional and mental health significantly.

REM sleep is essential for facilitating the processing of emotional information. It is evident that a lack of sleep, particularly REM sleep, can interfere with the brain’s ability to integrate positive emotional content. In other words, the brain evaluates and remembers thoughts and memories during sleep. If this necessary process is compromised, mood and emotional stability can suffer. A lack of adequate sleep with REM and non-REM stages can cause emotional reactivity. It can also increase mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression.14 

How to Improve Sleep for Improved Mental Well-Being

Consistently getting enough sleep enhances the overall quality of life, promoting well-being and vitality.

To improve your mental well-being through better sleep15:

  • Aim for at least 7 hours of sleep per night. Individual sleep needs may vary, but 7-9 hours is sufficient for most adults.
  • Establish a regular sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at about the same time each day, as often as possible.
  • Make your sleeping area good for sleeping. It should be dark, quiet, and cozy with a cool temperature. Try to have as little light as possible from windows and things like phones and computers.
  • Limit exposure to screens about 1-2 hours before bedtime. The blue light from phones, TVs, and computers can make it hard to fall asleep and feel rested. This is because this kind of light makes your brain more active. Consider charging your phone in another room if you feel tempted to scroll late at night.
  • Avoid consuming caffeine close to bedtime. Set a time to stop drinking coffee each day so you have plenty of time to clear the stimulating effects of caffeine from your body.
  • Engage in relaxing activities before bedtime. Reading a book, gentle stretching, or meditation can all help your body and mind decompress and prepare for a restful night of sleep.


Americans seem notoriously sleep-deprived; it’s almost a competition in our busy culture. Perhaps there’s a balance to achieve, one where you can enjoy your social life, work, and home life while prioritizing sleep. You deserve to feel better and to engage in your life in a fulfilling way.

If you’re finding it hard to fall or stay asleep or have a sleep problem (like sleep apnea or insomnia), talk to a doctor or a health expert for help. You could be helping yourself out more than you can imagine by improving your sleep.


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    1. Merrill RM. Mental Health Conditions According to Stress and Sleep Disorders. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2022;19(13):7957.

    1. Harvard Health Publishing. Sleep and mental health. Harvard Health. Published August 17, 2021.

    1. How Sleep Deprivation Impacts Mental Health. Columbia University Department of Psychiatry. Published March 14, 2022.

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    1. Alhola P, Polo-Kantola P. Sleep deprivation: Impact on cognitive performance. Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment. 2007;3(5):553-567.

    1. How Sleep Improves and Impairs Creative Thinking – eachnight. Published April 24, 2020. Accessed July 22, 2023

    1. Salfi F, Lauriola M, Tempesta D, et al. Effects of Total and Partial Sleep Deprivation on Reflection Impulsivity and Risk-Taking in Deliberative Decision-Making. Nature and Science of Sleep. 2020;12:309-324.

    1. MIND. About sleep and mental health. Published May 2020.

    1. CDC. CDC – Sleep and Chronic Disease – Sleep and Sleep Disorders. Published February 13, 2019.

    1. Scott AJ, Webb TL, Martyn-St James M, Rowse G, Weich S. Improving sleep quality leads to better mental health: A meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Sleep Medicine Reviews. 2021;60(60):101556.

    1. Psychology Today. Neuroplasticity | Psychology Today. Psychology Today.

    1. Stage of sleep: Suni E, Dimitriu A. Mental Health and Sleep. Sleep Foundation. Published September 18, 2020.

    1. Suni E. Stages of sleep: What happens in a sleep cycle. Sleep Foundation. Published December 2, 2021.

    1. CDC. Sleep hygiene tips – sleep and sleep disorders. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published September 13, 2022.

Written By
Rychel Johnson, M.S., LCPC
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor

Rychel Johnson, M.S., LCPC, is a licensed clinical professional counselor in Kansas. She owns a private practice, Empower Mental Wellness, specializing in anxiety treatment and social skills development. Rychel also enjoys extensive road trips and spending time with her husband, toddler, and two cats.

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