Sleep and mental health – Q&A with Professor Michael Berk

We know that sleep is important, and most of us want more. But why? Mental health expert Professor Michael Berk explains the importance of sleep and how it can impact our mental health.

Can you briefly explain the sleep cycle and its different stages?

Sleep goes through phases including light sleep, deep sleep and rapid eye-movement sleep. People cycle through these phases through the night but tend to have more deep sleep in the hours after falling asleep and rapid eye-movement sleep before waking up.

Can you explain some of the reasons why sleep really does matter so much?

Sleep is essential for many processes that help to regulate and balance the body’s internal systems such as activating your immune system and defence against stress. Because of these critical functions sleep is essential to health.

What exactly is the link between sleep and mental health problems?

Many mental health problems share symptoms of sleep disruption. Insomnia is a core symptom of depression as well as anxiety. For many people sleep disturbance can be a risk factor for depression. 

What is your number one tip for getting a good night's sleep and in turn looking after your mental health?

There are many tips for managing sleep. Perhaps the most important is to try and maintain a regular time for going to sleep and waking up in the morning including weekends. Avoiding caffeine and other stimulants helps. It also helps to avoid overstimulation before bedtime. Exercise helps but not too close to bedtime.