Science-Backed Ways Poor Sleep Can Affect Your Mental Health

Poor Sleep


Poor sleep and mental health are intertwined. Poor sleep can worsen many health problems, including mental health issues like depression and anxiety, and make it harder to deal with stress. But the opposite can also be true. Poor sleep can even be an early warning sign of a mental health issue. If you’re anxious or depressed, it’s harder to fall and stay asleep. In either case, there’s much to be gained by improving sleep habits. Let’s look at how lack of sleep or poor sleep affects mental health.

Sleep and Mental Health: The Chicken or the Egg?

You might think, “It’s hard to know what came first. Does poor sleep trigger a depressed mood or vice versa?” The answer is both. Sleep disorders and depression can work in tandem, even in a bidirectional way. For example, a person with insomnia may have trouble sleeping because they’re worried or unhappy, but also have trouble getting out of bed because they lack energy and motivation from underlying depression.

Plus, being in a stressful environment or situation can have long-term effects on sleep. If you experience chronic stress that lasts months or years (such as from a difficult job), you may struggle to fall asleep because your nervous system is constantly overstimulated from increased stress hormones circulating in your bloodstream. This can lead to full-blown insomnia once the physiological changes begin to affect your body’s natural rhythms. These changes may not be entirely reversible even after leaving the stressful environment behind! Plus, they can disrupt other aspects of health including blood sugar control and blood pressure.

The Relationship Between Sleep and Depression is Bidirectional

As mentioned, the link between sleep and mental health issues, like depression, is bidirectional. This means each condition can cause the other, or one can come first and lead to the other. However, it’s not a simple causal relationship; rather, it’s complex and can go both ways.

Depression is a mood disorder that includes feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness. It can also include loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed, weight changes, changes in sleep or appetite, and difficulty concentrating. These symptoms lead to problems in daily life, such as: sleeping too much or too little; crying often; having trouble doing normal daily tasks like bathing or dressing; feeling tired all the time; thinking about death or suicide. In turn, this worsens sleep problems.

The relationship between sleep problems and depression isn’t linear. A person might have depression at the same time they’re dealing with sleep issues or vice versa. And while it may be easy to assume that people who have trouble sleeping are more likely to get depressed (thereby causing or worsening their sleeplessness), this isn’t always true–the reverse could also be true. Poor sleep can be a cause of depression but is also a symptom of the condition, and each can worsen the other. It can become a vicious cycle that’s difficult to break out of.

Other Ways Poor Sleep Affects Mental Health

It can be difficult to make it through the day when you don’t get enough sleep. You may have trouble focusing, remembering things, and completing tasks. And if you struggle to concentrate and make mistakes at work or school, this can increase your stress level and make it harder to cope with challenges.

Studies show that when people don’t get enough sleep, it’s harder to solve problems. Both poor sleep and depression can lead to irritability, anger, and worsen anxiety. Researchers at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston point out that not only is it harder to sleep when you’re anxious but poor-quality sleep worsens anxiety. Again, it’s a bidirectional effect, each aggravating the other.

The Effects of Poor Sleep Vary With the Individual

Poor sleep has different effects on different people. For example, some people seem to function well with little sleep. Some individuals say they feel fine when they get four or five hours of sleep a night but feel depressed and irritable if they go below this. Others feel depressed and anxious after only one night of poor sleep.

The most common response to poor sleep is that people become irritable and have trouble focusing and being productive throughout the day. However, lots can be going on underneath the surface. Lack of sleep can affect blood pressure and blood sugar control and lead to weight gain. When you haven’t had a good night’s sleep, you’re more likely to make unhealthy food choices and be less active. There is no way around it: if you want better mental health, you need better quality rest!


Research shows that depression, anxiety, and suicide are all linked to disturbed sleep patterns–although the exact cause-and-effect relationships remain unclear. Scientists know that better sleep can foster improvements in mental health symptoms. Therefore, it’s worth considering this as an intervention for people who are chronically stressed or have mental health issues. But everyone needs the benefits of a good night’s sleep.

According to SleepFoundation.org, adults need between 7 and 9 hours of quality sleep each night to function best and be their healthiest. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the likelihood that people get that amount varies with where they live. People who live in the southeastern United States are more likely to get a good night’s sleep consistently than those who live in the Great Plains states or near the Appalachian Mountains. The take-home message? Regardless of where you live, you need enough high-quality sleep for physical and mental health. Make it a priority to get it.


  • “Depression and Sleep | Sleep Foundation.” sleepfoundation.org/mental-health/depression-and-sleep.
  • “Lack of Sleep and Depression: Causes and Treatment Options.” aastweb.org/blog/the-relationships-between-lack-of-sleep-and-depression.
  • “Depression and Sleep: Understanding the Connection.” hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/depression-and-sleep-understanding-the-connection.
  • “Depression and Insomnia: Medicine and Natural Treatments.” 29 Oct. 2021, healthline.com/health/insomnia/treating-insomnia-and-depression.
  • “CDC – Sleep and Chronic Disease – Sleep and Sleep Disorders.” https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/chronic_disease.html.
  • “Chronic stress puts your health at risk – Mayo Clinic.” 08 Jul. 2021, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037.
  • “A lack of sleep can induce anxiety | Science News.” 06 Nov. 2018, https://www.sciencenews.org/article/lack-sleep-can-induce-anxiety.
  • “Mental Health and Sleep | Sleep Foundation.” 15 Apr. 2022, https://www.sleepfoundation.org/mental-health.
  • “How Much Sleep Do We Really Need? | Sleep Foundation.” 13 Apr. 2022, https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need.
  • “CDC – Data and Statistics – Sleep and Sleep Disorders.” https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/data_statistics.html.\hort Summary:

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