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How Does Sleep Affect Mental Health?

Last June, a few months into the pandemic, a phrase began spreading around Twitter: “revenge bedtime procrastination.” The term originated in China and refers to “a phenomenon in which people who don’t have much control over their daytime life refuse to sleep early in order to regain some sense of freedom during late night hours.”

Sound familiar?

Many of us have some experience with this phenomenon, particularly in this past year when so many things have felt out of our control. Taking some time—or even a lot of time—for ourselves at the end of a long and difficult day feels cathartic.

But there are consequences for this kind of sleep procrastination. When we don’t sleep well, our nervous system doesn’t get to take a break and reset. We’re more likely to experience inflammation and gut issues, and it’s more difficult for our bodies to produce feel-good hormones like serotonin.

The Connection Between Sleep and Mental Health

We know that lack of sleep has serious consequences for our physical health. But, as I often talk about here, our physical and mental health are intricately connected. When your body hasn’t had the chance to recharge and heal with sufficient sleep, you can’t function optimally. You may feel sluggish, or you might feel overstimulated because your nervous system is working overtime.

This is where lack of sleep can begin to affect your mental health. A sympathetic nervous system that’s in overdrive can lead to issues like anxiety and depression. We also see a link between people whose circadian rhythm is off and conditions like bipolar disorder and PTSD. Moreover, these problems can feed into each other and become a vicious cycle: you don’t sleep, so you feel bad physically, and you experience anxiety. Then anxiety leads to more lack of sleep, so you feel bad physically, and you experience more anxiety.

How You Feel Matters

Feeling groggy, sluggish and anxious from lack of sleep is unfortunately all too common—and it is something that often isn’t taken seriously. We have all kinds of products designed to help us push through our tiredness, from triple espressos to energy drinks.

But those feelings are really our bodies trying to tell us something. Ignoring them is a mistake that can lead to a lot of problems down the road. Trying to push past them and barrel forward will only perpetuate the cycle.

If we really want to live optimally, be more productive, and be fully present for life, then getting good sleep is absolutely vital.


The content found on Integrative Counseling and Nutrition Consulting platform is not intended to be a substitute for professional therapeutic advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your psychiatrist, therapist or other qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding a mental health condition.


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