We’ve all been there. During a busy season of life, we’ve come to the point of having to balance sleep, work, school, and some form of social life. For many, sleep sounds like the unfortunate loser in this equation. However, sleep plays a larger role than you might think in balancing these areas of your life.

You see, sleep has a major role in a very important aspect of one’s emotional and mental health. In fact, one can say that sleep and mental health have a sort of bi-directional relationship: meaning the more problems you have with one, the more likely you are to have problems with the other.  

To give you a better picture of the effects of sleep and mental health, let’s imagine that you were going to run a marathon. In order to run that marathon, you should probably train your body to handle the extra strain, right? Otherwise, you might end up hurting yourself come race day! To take it a step further, the more you’ve prepared for the race, the more confident you will feel about completing the race. This is exactly what taking care of your mental health through sleep does! Sleep not only recharges your mind, but it also prepares you to take on the challenges for the days to come.  

Here are three common myths/misconceptions about sleep and mental health that many believe, along with information on why they are untrue. 

MYTH: I get by fine on just a few hours of sleep a night 

While we may think we are receiving enough sleep, our bodies likely beg to differ. In fact, many people struggle to recognize when their bodies need more rest. For college students, the recommend amount of sleep is 7-9 hours in order to feel fully rested and recharge your mind for the next day. It’s important to reiterate that these two aspects of our life – sleep and mental health – are not separate but interconnected.  

MYTH: More sleep just increases my mental health problems 

Now this is a tricky statement because for many years, we’ve believed that sleeping problems were a consequence of mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression. However, recent evidence has shown that the opposite relationship can be true as well. (Remember that bi-directional relationship we talked about?). This is to say that those who have issues with sleeping have the potential to experience mental health problems as a result of their poor sleep. Sleep deprivation has been linked to triggering psychosis and manic episodes. 

So, it’s not really more sleep that’s the problem, rather unhealthy sleeping patterns. 

MYTH: Sleep is for the Weak 

I can’t even begin to describe all the issues that come along with this statement. Just like mental health, there are those who stigmatize sleep as a form of weakness. The fact of the matter is that sleep (alongside our mental health) makes us stronger and is our body’s way of communicating its needs. Our response to this form of communication is what’s important!  

Quality sleep has so many  benefits including:  

  1. Getting sick less often  
  1. Staying at a healthy weight 
  1. Lowering your risk for serious health problems like heart disease 
  1. More positive mood and getting along with others better 
  1. Thinking more clearly  
  1. Being more productive 

Establishing a healthy sleeping pattern in your life and understanding ways to improve your sleep day by day is an important way to set yourself up for success. The Center for Student Well-Being and the USF Counseling Center provide great resources to help you improve your sleep, and in turn, your mental health. 

Togetherall, a free mental health community for all USF students has discussion boards and helpful resources on sleep. So, the next time you are presented with a busy season in your life, remember the important role sleep can play.