But setting a new routine can help you get your ZZZs.
Skimping on sleep can often lead to feeling groggy the next day, but it can also raise your risk of a more serious, long-term effect on your mental health, according to a new study.
Researchers at Binghamton University found that sleeping less than eight hours a night was associated with intrusive, repetitive thoughts, similar to those seen with anxiety disorder and depression.
When sleep is regularly disrupted, it can lead to a tendency toward getting negative thoughts “stuck” in the mind, says lead researcher Meredith Coles, a professor of psychology at Binghamton University. Further research will have to be done to investigate why the connection exists, she notes, but for people who tend to be anxious or depressed, more regular sleep schedules may be worth considering. (Try these 12 foolproof natural sleep remedies.)
“The challenge with anxiety and sleep problems is that they make each other worse,” says Rita Aouad, MD, who specializes in both psychiatry and sleep medicine at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “If you’re feeling anxious, you tend to have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep because your brain is churning over negative thoughts. Then, if your sleep is interrupted often, it can cause the kind of ‘stuck’ quality seen in recent study.”
Interrupted sleep, or getting less than the recommended amount (the absolute minimum is 7 hours for most adults), can reduce the amount of REM sleep you get, Aouad notes.
This is the phase of sleep when you usually dream, but also when your brain is busy with tasks like memory consolidation and clearing “unnecessary thoughts,” she adds.
Fortunately, if you don’t have an underlying medical cause for getting too little sleep, there are some sleep hygiene strategies that can help. Aouad suggests avoiding digital screens—smartphones, e-readers, tablets—for at least an hour before bed, since the blue light they emit can interfere with melatonin, the hormone that helps you doze off. (Here’s what happened when one woman stopped bringing her phone to bed.)
Another good tactic is establishing a regular bedtime and wake time, even on the weekends. This can get your brain and body into the habit of consistent sleep, says Aouad. If you’re still experiencing consistently negative thoughts or anxiety, she suggests seeing your doctor to find a solution that works for you.