How Sleep Can Improve Your Mental Health and Wellbeing

Sleep does more than make you feel rested — it’s crucial for healthy functioning. During slumber, your muscles repair themselves, brain cells sweep out waste and build new ones, and the body releases hormones that play a role in everything from hunger to stress levels. It’s no wonder that people who miss out on adequate sleep are at higher risk for obesity, heart disease, depression, diabetes and more. But there are also a host of ways that good sleep can help you improve your mental health and wellbeing.

While you’re sleeping, your brain makes connections between memories and events. Deep sleep is especially important for consolidating and strengthening those memories. Researchers suspect this is because it allows the brain to “replay” experiences, helping you recall them in a more vivid and accurate manner. This same process can also lead to greater creativity, as demonstrated by a study published in the journal Science Advances.

It’s no secret that a lack of sleep can leave you feeling sluggish and irritable. That’s because your mood is affected by a number of factors, including the stress levels you experience during the day, and the ability to concentrate and stay focused on tasks. Inadequate sleep can also lower your immune system, which means you’re more susceptible to sickness and infections.

The reasons you feel sleepy at night — and the benefits you get from it — aren’t fully understood, but research indicates that it involves several different biological processes. One theory is that sleep evolved as a protective mechanism. It may have helped humans avoid predators at night, or prevent the body from wasting energy that could be used to fuel activities needed to hunt and gather food. Other theories involve the use of sleep to save energy, support cognitive functions and restore cells that have been used or damaged during the day.

A growing body of evidence suggests that being in sync with your circadian rhythm — the 24-hour internal clock that regulates core bodily functions, such as hunger, metabolism and sleep — is critical to overall health. So, if you’re struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep, or experiencing excessive sleepiness during the day, listen up: You may have a sleep disorder that needs medical treatment.

If you’re interested in learning more about how the sleep-wake cycle works and how you can improve your sleep habits, we recommend contacting a certified sleep specialist or psychologist. A therapist who specializes in sleep disorders can teach you relaxation techniques, work with you to change negative thoughts that interfere with your ability to sleep soundly at night and help you develop a healthier relationship to sleep and stress.