Sleep and mood are closely connected

Healthy sleep is important for our well-being and quality of life.

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September 12, 2023
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We all know what it feels like when we don’t get a good night sleep – we may feel tired and irritable the next day, and little things can get to us. Poor sleep can worsen stress and other health problems, such as depression, heart disease and diabetes. Depression can also cause poor sleep, with difficulty getting off to sleep and then waking up during the night. Sometimes, if we are able to get a few good nights of sleep, our mood will improve. Healthy sleep is important for our well-being and quality of life.

Research studies in healthy people have shown that even one night without sleep causes sleepiness, fatigue, irritability and lack of motivation. Sleep loss will make us feel more upset, angry and sad in response to unpleasant events and make us less able to enjoy and be happy about good things in our life.

We also know sleeping for less than 5 hours per night for several nights in a row can have a significant effect on our mood. People become sadder, angrier, more stressed and mentally exhausted if their sleep is restricted in this way.  When they are then allowed to have a normal amount of sleep, they report dramatic improvements in mood as they recover from sleep loss.

Just as sleep loss can affect mood so can our mood can affect how we sleep. If we are agitated, anxious, or too wound up before going to bed, this can interfere with our ability to fall asleep, or get a good night’s sleep. People who are constantly stressed or anxious often have poor sleep. This can turn into a vicious cycle, where waking feeling unrefreshed and less able to deal with the day increases stress and anxiety about sleep the next night. Where problems falling asleep at normal bedtime or staying asleep during the night persist for more than a month then insomnia is said to be present.

Sleep disorders and mood

For people who suffer with severe insomnia, the likelihood of having depression has been shown to be four times higher than the general population. In a large study of 10,000 adults, people with insomnia were twenty times more likely to develop panic disorder, a type of anxiety disorder. Patients with obstructive sleep apnoea (a condition associated with breathing disruptions during sleep) also have higher rates of depression than the general population. While it is hard to determine whether the sleep problem or the depression came first, there is growing evidence that poor sleep may actually lead to depression down the track. That’s why it’s so important to have insomnia and sleep apnoea treated.

Sleep is altered in people with mood disorders

People with mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety, often have sleep complaints or poor sleep patterns. These include problems getting enough sleep, sleeping for too long or sleeping at different times during the day/night. In fact, sleep problems are found in around 90% of depressed individuals, and is often the first symptom that appears. It is quite normal for sleep to be disturbed in patients with depression or anxiety.  The important thing is that help is available.

Improving your sleep CAN help!

It is really important to address any sleeping problems you have as this may result in a big improvement in your mood. The good news is that most sleep complaints can be treated. Visit Sleep Hygiene: Good Sleep Habits for tips. If your sleep does not improve with these tips, talk to your GP for further options. There are many ways to help with sleep problems, including diagnosis and treatment of conditions such as sleep apnoea and, where insomnia is concerned, counselling, behavioural modifications and, sometimes, medication.

Dr Melinda Jackson