Sleep and Mental Health

Sleep and Mental Health

O’Keeffe (1995) cited an “awareness that sleep is important for health, and that insufficient or disrupted sleep increases the risk of developing metabolic disorders (including type 2 diabetes), cardiovascular disease (including hypertension, stroke and ischaemic heart disease) and cancer”. She also describes sleep as being important for psychological well being. Sleep includes two very different brain states – rapid eye movement (REM) and nonrapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. NREM sleep is further divided into three stages (NREM 1-3), which reflect different depths of sleep on a continuum. NREM stage 3 is the deepest stage of sleep. Sleep loss, whether through inadequate sleep duration or quality, often results in changes to the structure of sleep. However, all stages of sleep are vital for optimal functioning and health.  O’keeffe (1995 further outlines: “In relation to mental health, REM sleep seems to be particularly important for the regulation of emotion. It is likely that during REM sleep, emotional memories are integrated into our current understanding of the world and put into long-term storage. REM sleep may also help determine whether we view a memory in a positive or negative light. Sleep loss has been linked to the generation of more negative and fewer positive emotions.”

She says something really interesting here lack of sleep is connected to more negative emotions and a negative recollection of memories.  Which seems to imply that adequate sleep assists individuals to see their memories in more accurate manners- and potentially positively- and enables them to experience more positive emotions.

Monti & Jantos (2008) discuss dopamine and serotonin involved in the wake cycle and how levels if not adequate during the day can affect the production of melatonin and having restful sleep.

Just to assist with understanding the physiology involved with sleep The suprachiasmatic nucleus or nuclei (SCN) is a tiny region of the brain in the hypothalamus, situated directly above the optic chiasm. It is responsible for controlling circadian rhythms. The neuronal and hormonal activities it generates regulate many different body functions in a 24-hour cycle.  It controls body temperature, melatonin and cortisol.

Also when you hear circadian rhythm and normal sleep/wake cycles, or how challenging shift work/ overnights are for people- here is why:

The precursor to melatonin is serotonin, a neurotransmitter that itself is derived from the amino acid tryptophan. Within the pineal gland, serotonin is acetylated and then methylated to yield melatonin. Synthesis and secretion of melatonin is dramatically affected by light exposure to the eyes.

 Basically during the day dopamine and serotonin causes your body to feel awake and function throughout the day.  As the sun goes down, serotonin is changed over by the process described above into melatonin causing you to be sleepy as the sun goes down.  It also assists in keeping you sleepy/ sleeping the duration of darkness.  Some theorize that it comes from innate evolutionary processes when it was critical for survival that humans lay quiet because there were many predators at night.  However, as humans evolved this was not dropped from our body processes.  If you are not getting enough sleep that can impact your ability to produce serotonin and dopamine and again melatonin production will decrease as well.

Many mental health diagnoses involve levels of serotonin and dopamine. Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia and Depression are involved with these hormones as dopamine is thought to be related to how you experience pleasure.

The main take away is that sleep- or lack of (and stress) can affect the production of certain hormones in your body’s regulation processes that can have a chain effect on other systems and create a continued pattern of deficits leading to mental health issues, physical health issues, and other problems.

If you are experiencing sleep issues or have concerns about your sleep hygiene or health please reach out for an assessment or some coaching to see what can be changed or improved upon to better your overall health.

Monti JM, Jantos H. The roles of dopamine and serotonin, and of their receptors, in regulating sleep and waking. Prog Brain Res. 2008;172:625‐646. doi:10.1016/S0079-6123(08)00929-1

O’Keeffe, Karyn M. “Sleep Loss Linked to Mood Disorders.” Kai Tiaki (1995), vol. 22, no. 8, New Zealand Nurses’ Organization, Sept. 2016, p. 33–,,contains,998921600402837&tab=innz&search_scope=INNZ&vid=NLNZ&offset=0.

**Next article on Stress and Substance Use Disorders…

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