Regular sleep cycle good for mental health

Research has found that keeping to a regular sleep pattern can ward off depression. But sometimes it can be vicious circle, with depression or anxiety leading to a lack of sleep, and a lack of sleep exacerbating mental health problems. So how can we improve our sleep cycle?

Recent research published in the journal Lancet Psychiatry has provided further evidence of the link between sleep and mental health.

Active during the day

The study from researchers from Scotland, Ireland and Sweden looked at data from over 91,000 people who had worn an activity tracker for a week. They analysed how active the people were during the day and at night.

People who were active during the day and asleep at night were given a high ‘relative amplitude’ score. Those who tended to be disturbed during their sleep, for example who got up during the night, and were not very active during the day, were given a low ‘relative amplitude’ score.

The researchers then looked at the results from questionnaires that the people had filled in, which included questions around depression, bipolar disorder, neuroticism and loneliness.

Relative amplitude

The research found that those who had a low score for ‘relative amplitude’ were linked to poorer mental health. The odds of loneliness increased by 9% when moving from one group to the next lowest for relative amplitude, the odds of ever having had depression increased by 6% and the odds of having had bipolar disorder increased by 11%.

Measures of happiness and health satisfaction dropped with lower relative amplitude scores.

Circadian rhythm

The researchers concluded that having a disrupted ‘circadian rhythm’ can lead to the increased possibility of mood disorders and depression, and lower levels of happiness. The circadian rhythm is the body’s sleep and wake cycle – the 24-hour cycle that dictates when we feel sleepy and when we are alert.

Professor Daniel Smith, one of the authors of the study, said: “This is important globally because more and more people are living in urban environments that are known to increase risk of circadian disruption and, by extension, adverse mental health outcomes.” 

This is the latest research about the link between sleep and mental health. What is doesn’t tell us is whether sleep disruption is the cause of mental health problems or because of them. Mental health problems can affect how well you sleep, and poor sleep can have a negative impact on your mental health.

A good night’s sleep

The charity Mind offers some advice to people about how to get a good night’s sleep if someone has mental health problems such as anxiety or depression.

They recommend establishing a regular sleeping pattern by going to bed and getting up at roughly the same time each day. Other advice includes establishing a relaxation routine before going to bed, for example breathing exercises, meditation or doing something calming such as having a bath. Trying to identify what is causing stress or worry may help, for example writing down any issues before going to bed.

Using screens directly before going to bed has been shown to negatively affect sleep. It could be beneficial to turn off your TV, laptop and phone an hour before bed so that you are prepared for sleep.

Keeping a sleep diary could help with finding out what is impacting your ability to sleep well. A wrist-worn activity tracker can help with this as it gives you information about how long you were asleep for, how often you were awake and how restless you were.


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