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Sleep and Emotional Health: It's Complicated

By Staff | October 22, 2021 | Mayo Clinic Health Information Library

Everyone has a restless night every now and then. Perhaps you're stressing about a job interview or class project and can't turn off your brain. Or, a broken heart is playing with your emotions and making you toss and turn.

Sleep and mental health are closely linked and can lead to a vicious cycle of poor sleep. If you're stressed out, it can be hard to fall or stay asleep. Don't get enough sleep, and you're likely to be more stressed.

Sleep troubles can happen for all kinds of reasons. An occasional worry can keep you awake. But sometimes, a change in sleep habits is a sign of a mental health problem — such as depression — that requires treatment. Or, a sleep disorder such as insomnia or restless legs syndrome might steal your zzz's and trigger a mood disorder, or make it worse.

How mental health affects sleep

Health conditions that affect your mood or behavior can cause changes in how well or how much you sleep. The following may occur in both children and adults:

  • Depression. You may sleep more than usual or have trouble falling or staying asleep. Depression is common among those with insomnia.
  • Anxiety disorder. Worrying a lot all the time makes it hard to fall asleep. You may also wake up during the night and have trouble falling back to sleep.
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Teens with ADHD are more likely to have trouble sleeping. ADHD causes sleep problems in adults, too.

Other mental health conditions that can cause sleeping difficulty include bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

When sleep affects your mental health

Sometimes, a sleep disorder leads to depression and other changes in mood. It may also affect your quality of life. Sleep disorders that can lead to mental health problems include:

  • Insomnia
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Restless legs syndrome
  • Narcolepsy

When to see a doctor

If you or your child are having difficulty sleeping or changes in mood, talk to your doctor. Keeping a log of how you feel and when you sleep and wake up can be helpful. Bring it with you to your appointment.

Your doctor can do an exam and may do other tests to tell you if your symptoms are a sign of a mental health condition, sleep disorder or other health concern. Proper treatment can help you sleep better and prevent depression.

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