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Sleep and Mental Health


Most of us have struggled with sleep problems at one time or another. In fact, Americans are notoriously sleep deprived. And we know that not getting enough sleep can leave us feeling rundown, lacking focus, and irritable, even after only one day! If prolonged, it can weaken our immune system and we can even get sick.

Mental Disorders are Linked to Sleep Disorders

What many people don’t know about is the strong connection between sleep disorders and mental illness. Approximately 50 to 80% of psychiatric patients have sleep disorders, as opposed to 10 to 18% of the general population.   Doctors have long thought that the sleep disorders were a symptom of the mental illness, but are now finding that sometimes the sleep disorders can cause the mental illness.

The most common mental illnesses to be associated with sleep disorders are bipolar disorder, ADHD, depression and anxiety. The connection between sleep disorders and mental illness is not fully known, but is fully documented. Treatment of the sleep disorders can possibly help improve the mental illnesses, as not having a complete night’s rest can lead to negative thoughts and, of course, tiredness and irritability during the day. If this sleep disruption occurs chronically, it can, of course, cause emotional vulnerability and constant negative thinking.

There are over 70 types of sleep disorders. The most common is insomnia, followed by obstructive sleep disorder (sleep apnea).   Chronic sleep disruption impairs emotional regulation and thought processing, and can intensify a mental illness or even possibly cause one.

Depression and Sleep Disorders

Depression is strongly associated with sleep disorders. In fact, people with insomnia are four times as likely to develop major depression as those without a sleep disorder. Sleep problems affect outcomes for patients with depression. Studies report that depressed patients who continue to experience insomnia are less likely to respond to treatment than those without sleep problems. Even patients whose mood improves with antidepressant therapy are more at risk for a relapse of depression later on. Depressed patients who experience sleep disturbances are more likely to think about suicide and die by suicide than depressed patients who are able to sleep normally.

Diagnosing Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorders can be identified by having a sleep study done. A sleep study is usually done in a hospital or sleep center. You will be monitored during the night for sleep patterns, blood oxygen levels, etc. Then the results will be interpreted by a physician who will decide which, if any, sleep disorders you might have.

Treating Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorders can be treated by behavioral changes, lifestyle changes, physical activity, keeping the same sleep and wake schedule every day, relaxation techniques, making sure your bedroom is dark and quiet and used only for sleeping and sex. Watching television in bed is not recommended.
There are also important dietary changes that can help with your sleep. One of these is to avoid caffeine within 3 hours of bedtime. So that means no coffee, tea, or iced tea before bed, although herbal teas are fine and many types can aid sleep enhancement. And alcohol, although it can help you get to sleep, can also wake you up in three or four hours, thereby contributing to sleep disorders.

Nutrients That Will Help You Sleep

While pharmaceuticals are commonly used to treat sleep disorders, there are nutrients in food that can profoundly help with your sleep. One is tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid that helps the brain relax and slow down resulting in a feeling of sleepiness. You can get tryptophan by eating high protein foods, especially turkey, chicken, and dairy products like milk. Eating carbohydrates with protein helps tryptophan convert to serotonin, sometimes referred to as “the mood molecule”. You may have heard of the old remedy for sleeplessness – warm milk and honey. Our grandparents and great grandparents knew a cup of warm milk with honey before bed would help insure a good night’s sleep. The carbohydrate in the honey would help transport the tryptophan from the milk to the brain to induce sleep.

Melatonin is also known for its sleep inducing properties. Tart cherries are high in melatonin and studies involving drinking tart cherry juice before bed showed significantly enhanced sleep over a placebo.

Calcium and magnesium are also powerful sleep inducers. That cup of warm milk we were talking about ealier would also provide calcium and magnesium and goat’s milk is even higher in both of those minerals than cow’s milk. Raw cacao is very high in magnesium and can also be added to your warm milk for a relaxing magnesium boost. Taking a warm bath with 2 cups of Epsom salt before bed will allow the relaxing effects of magnesium to absorb through the skin.

Here are some bedtime snack ideas with nutrients to help you sleep:

  • Half a banana with a few almonds
  • Crackers with almond butter or peanut butter
  • Small Ezekiel wrap with turkey and cranberries
  • Small glass of warm goat’s milk with honey and cacao
  • Chamomile, passion flower and valerian tea
  • Small glass of tart cherry juice


Sleep is a critical component of our overall health and mental health. Not getting enough sleep puts us at higher risk of illness, fatigue, depression and anxiety. It can also make us resistant to treatment for depression and at higher risk for relapse. Sleep is important! Making a few small dietary changes can reap big rewards in the quality of our sleep, mood, and overall mental health.


4 Responses to “Sleep and Mental Health”

  1. A Sound sleep plays an important role in our physical health. For example, sound sleep is engaged in healing and repair of your heart and blood ewers.

  2. Felica says:

    I have been working 9 – 10 hours a day 6 times a week which is obviously stressful and it makes me unable to get a proper sleep. It’s inevitable so I would follow the information in this article regarding the nutritious food that would help me with this issue.

  3. Liana says:

    Any nutritional suppliments to step off benzodiazepine? These drugs inly worsen anxiety making it unhealable. Ruins a y natural sleep patterns.

  4. You are setting a great example to all the bloggers out there in the same niche. Thanks for sharing the wonderful post with us.

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