Sleep hygiene plays a crucial role in today’s fast-paced world. Sleep hygiene, sleep, and mental health cascade into each other.
By Daniel N. Alvarez Núñez and Ivonne Alejandra Méndez Ávila
The current pace of life has led many people to sacrifice sleep to pursue academic achievements, work goals, or social commitments. While we often worry more about the physical repercussions of lack of sleep, the psychological consequences are impactful too.
Sleep is divided into two phases: REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM. The reported functions vary, but most research suggests non-REM sleep is associated with energy conservation and recovery of the nervous system—that is, rest and regeneration in the body. REM sleep, on the other hand, has an essential role in memory consolidation and emotional regulation.
One of the many reasons people may have difficulty falling asleep may be related to a lack of healthy sleep hygiene habits.
Sleep hygiene is the set of practices that facilitate quality sleep, helping individuals to fall asleep without difficulties, maintain it throughout the night, and have good daytime functioning the next day. These practices range from behavioral habits to taking care of the conditions of the sleeping environment.
Within sleep hygiene behavioral habits are recommendations such as establishing a regular sleep and wake schedule, avoiding caffeine at least six hours before going to bed, not exceeding 45 minutes of daytime sleep, and avoiding heavy, spicy, or sugary foods at least four hours before going to bed.
Environmental recommendations include blocking out noise, eliminating as much light as possible, refraining from using electronic devices before bedtime, and reserving the bedroom for rest.
Sleep hygiene habits should become part of a person’s daily routine. If a person only applies these practices for a day or a week, they will not reap the desired results.
Although there is still much to learn about the relationships between sleep hygiene, sleep, and mental health, one thing is certain: Many mental disorders are frequently accompanied by sleep problems. In addition, insomnia can contribute to the onset and worsening of mental health issues like depression, stress, and anxiety.
Sleep deficiency can impact concentration, alertness, attention, focus, and reaction time, while also affecting sleep phases and memory, making academic or professional tasks more difficult and potentially raising stress levels.
Similarly, lack of sleep can significantly affect brain structures related to impulse control, emotional regulation, and socialization. After a sleepless night, a person may be more reactive, irritable, and impulsive, which can severely affect how we relate to others, impacting social relationships.
The relationship between sleep hygiene, sleep, and mental health is a cascade effect where each element can affect the others. For example, the poor sleep hygiene habit of using electronic devices before bedtime can affect the ease of falling asleep, which in turn can raise a concern about having a rough night because the person worries about next-day exhaustion. This cascades into poor performance in next-day activities. If poor sleep hygiene and poor sleep are maintained over time, insomnia will intensify anxiety and stress. The brain can enter a state of continuous alertness that will eventually subject the body to physical and psychological alterations.
The reasons a person may have difficulty sleeping can vary, and sleep hygiene can be a way to improve sleep and, ultimately, mental health. Of course, not all sleep-related problems are solved only by improving sleep hygiene; some conditions may be linked to neurological, psychological, or psychiatric disorders requiring specialist attention.
Still, improving and taking care of sleep hygiene does not harm anyone, so we recommend these behaviors as a way to safeguard mental health.
Daniel N. Alvarez Núñez is a full-time professor in the school of psychology and coordinator of the master’s program in neuropsychology at CETYS University, Mexicali campus. Ivonne Alejandra Méndez Ávila is a clinical psychology student at CETYS University, Mexicali campus, and a member of the research group in the neuropsychology of memory and learning.
Photo 176581342 © Vera Petrunina | Dreamstime.com