The secret to better mental health? Better sleep

Updated: Dec 31, 2020


Sleep has long been associated with good physical and mental health. But when it comes to the latter, it may just be the most important factor of all.

In young adults in particular, past research has pointed toward sleep, diet and physical activity being the 'big three' factors impacting mental health, primarily due to the amount of lifestyle changes occurring during this time of life.


But now, according to new research, it may be sleep quality that is the ultimate indicator for young adult mental wellbeing.


The study, which included 1,100 young adults between the ages of 18 and 25, had participants complete an online survey which asked questions about their wellbeing, sleeping habits, diet and exercise.


Study participants were varied in terms of their education level, diet, medications and gender.


The study found that sleep quality was the strongest predictor of depressive symptoms and wellbeing. Those that slept within 8 to 12 hours with a good quality of sleep reported fewer depressive symptoms, compared with those that slept more or less.


Specifically, depressive symptoms were at their lowest after 9.7 hours of sleep per night while wellbeing was highest for young adults who slept 8 hours per night.


The number of hours slept, physical activity and diet followed as secondary predictors, all of which have been linked with affecting mental wellbeing in past studies.


"Our findings suggest that future lifestyle interventions targeting sleep quality may be most beneficial at improving mental health and well-being," say the authors of the paper.



Read more: Online young adult mental health pilot kicks off in Jersey



Importantly though, the relationship between the investigated factors and mental health is strictly a correlation – no changes were made to any of them so their direct effect on wellbeing could not be measured.


As a consequence, the authors suggest that all three of sleep, diet and exercise should be considered together in attempts to improve mental health.


"Physical activity and diet should not be disregarded, particularly as they also uniquely predicted differences in depressive symptoms (physical activity) and well-being (physical activity and raw fruit and vegetable intake)," added the authors.


"Sleep, physical activity, and a healthy diet should be thought of as multiple tools for promoting optimal mental health and well-being, particularly among young adult populations where the prevalence of mental disorders is high and well-being is suboptimal."


To read the full study, click here.