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Bidirectional relationship between sleep and mood disturbances

The average person will spend 27 years of their lifetime sleeping. Almost one-third of the population complains of sleep disturbances (1). These may include insomnia, sleep apnea, excessive sleepiness, restless legs syndrome and other sleep disorders. Insomnia is often described as a persistent dissatisfaction with the quality of sleep, difficulties falling asleep (onset) and/or sleep quantity (duration) over a minimum of three months. This can be associated with the onset of daytime cognitive impairment, irritability, mood swings, anxiety, depression and sleepiness.

Lady with insomnia and mood problems
Health impacts of poor sleep

Sleep and mental health

Epidemiological studies have shown that 30-60% of people who suffer from mental health disorders, also have insomnia (1). It was first thought that mental health problems led to difficulties sleeping, however, it is now also believed that poor sleep contributes to the onset of mental health complications. A recent meta-analysis of 21 studies found that non-depressed people with insomnia have a twofold risk of developing depression, compared to people who have no sleep complications (2). Therefore, addressing sleep quality and quantity is vital to preventing mental health concerns.

Benefits to improving sleep quality

A meta-analysis of random control trials found that improving sleep quality had a significant improvement in sleep-reduced depression, stress and anxiety (3). The greater improvements in sleep quality, the greater improvements in mental health. In addition, improving sleep has been shown to improve other aspects of physical health including fatigue, pain and quality of life.

Older adults, the most at risk

Up to 50% of older adults have reported having trouble falling asleep and maintaining sleep (4). This is partly due to changes experienced in ageing that alters sleep architecture and patterns, which lead to interrupted sleep. A longitudinal study found that older adults who are dissatisfied with their sleep quality also had higher odds of experiencing multiple comorbidities such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, hypertension, cognitive decline, type 2 diabetes and cancer (5).

Ways to improve good quality sleep

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy and cognitive restructuring (referral to a psychologist)

  • Relaxation therapy such as regular mindfulness and meditation

  • Reduce blue-light exposure 1-2 hours prior to bed such as phone, iPad/tablet, computer, TV, downlights etc (use blue-light filters where possible)

  • Environmental changes such as optimising a dark cool room with minimal noise disturbances

  • Move the alarm clock away from the bed to avoid watching time whilst awake

  • Circadian rhythm optimisation with exposure to sunlight in the morning (without sunglasses)

  • Daily physical exercise such as walking, cycling, running or weights

  • A warm bath before bed with aromatherapy oils (to help relax)

  • Establish a regular bedtime routine including keeping a consistent wake and sleep time

Nutrition and herbs to improve sleep quality

Nutrition and herbal supplementation have been shown to improve sleep quality and quantity, with minimal side effects. Isolated constituents such as glycine (non-essential amino acid) have been shown to improve subjective sleep quality and quantity, shorten the sleep onset latency; as well as improved memory performance and daytime sleepiness (6). Herbs such as hops and valerian have been found to improve sleep onset and quality in patients with primary insomnia (7). It is are recommended to see a qualified practitioner to ensure time and care is given to finding the right product/s to suit the individual needs. Every case is unique and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. These nutrients and herbs are examples of possible options and are not to be taken as a health recommendation.

Interested in supporting your sleep? Enquire for a Naturopath appointment.

Reference list

  1. Ohayon, M. M. (2011). Epidemiological overview of sleep disorders in the general population. Sleep Medicine Research, 2(1), 1-9.

  2. Baglioni, C., Battagliese, G., Feige, B., Spiegelhalder, K., Nissen, C., Voderholzer, U., Lombardo, C., & Riemann, D. (2011). Insomnia as a predictor of depression: A meta-analytic evaluation of longitudinal epidemiological studies. Journal of Affective Disorders, 135(1-3), 10–19.

  3. Scott, A. J., Webb, T. L., Martyn-St James, M., Rowse, G., & Weich, S. (2021). Improving sleep quality leads to better mental health: A meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 60, 101556.

  4. Gagnon, J-F., Lafreniere, A., Petit, D., Carrier, J. (2019). Chapter 45 - Sleep in normal ageing, Alzheimer's disease, and mild cognitive impairment. Handbook of Behavioural Neuroscience, 30, 677-692.

  5. Nicholson, K., Rodrigues, R., Anderson, K. K., Wilk, P., Guaiana, G., & Stranges, S. (2020). Sleep behaviours and multimorbidity occurrence in middle-aged and older adults: findings from the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA). Sleep Medicine, 75, 156–162.

  6. Yamadera, W., Inagawa, K., Chiba, S., Bannai, M., Takahashi, M., & Nakayama, K. (2007). Glycine ingestion improves subjective sleep quality in human volunteers, correlating with polysomnographic changes. Sleep Biology Rhythms, 5, 126–131.

  7. Salter, S., & Brownie, S. (2010). Treating primary insomnia - the efficacy of valerian and hops. Australian Family Physician, 39(6), 433–437.


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