Is sleep linked to mental health? Or is your diet more determinative? How about exercise? Do all of these factors work synergistically or is one more important than the others?

According to new research, the quality of your sleep affects your mental health more than what you eat or whether you move your body. Maybe it’s time to start paying more attention to the quality of our sleep.

New Study Shows Sleep Linked to Mental Health

A new study conducted at the University of Otago in New Zealand, demonstrates that sleep quality may be the most important factor predicting good mental health. The quality of our sleep is has more to do with our emotional wellbeing than the number of hours we sleep, the extent of our physical activity, or how healthy our diet may be.

Disrupted sleep has been linked to poor mental health before, including depression and other mood disorders. Eating a well-rounded diet has also been shown to help prevent depression, and even short bouts of exercise can boost your mental and physical health.

This study was conducted because “While extensive research has shown the mental health and wellbeing benefits of sleep, physical activity, and diet as individual predictors, research examining all three behaviors together…is limited,” according to the study authors of this research reported in Frontiers in Psychology Journal.


How the Study on Sleep Linked to Mental Health was Conducted


• In this study, the researchers surveyed more than 1,100 young adults aged between 18 and 25 years old to compare ‘the big three’ health factors impacting mental health side-by-side.

• People completing the online survey between 2018 and 2019 were asked about their mood and wellbeing, diet, exercise and sleeping habits.

• They also reported how refreshed they typically felt after waking up each morning, which is an established indicator of good quality sleep.

• The study participants, living in the United States and New Zealand, were a mixed bunch: some were already eating a vegetarian or vegan diet; others were taking anti-depressants for existing health conditions; and less than one third identified as male.

• But the researchers made adjustments in their analysis to account for these differences.


Results Show Sleep Linked to Mental Health


• People who slept close to 10 hours per night reported fewer depressive symptoms, but not enough (<8 h) or too much sleep (>12 h) had people reporting more symptoms of depression.

• Eating moderate servings of raw fruit and veg each day also correlated with better wellbeing.

• Physical activity was the second clearest indicator of wellbeing.

• But it was sleep quality that outranked them all as the strongest predictor of good mental health.

The researchers wrote that “This is surprising because sleep recommendations predominantly focus on quantity rather than quality. Our findings suggest that future lifestyle interventions targeting sleep quality may be most beneficial at improving mental health and wellbeing. However, physical activity and diet should not be disregarded.

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