Prioritizing A Strict Sleep Schedule Boasts Plenty Of Mental Health Benefits

You probably (no, definitely) know by now how crucial it is to get enough sleep, and you may have heard that sleep quality can affect your overall mental health. But, to actually get enough sleep — and, specifically, enough quality sleep — you have to start with your sleep schedule.


Counting the hours you spend in snoozeland or simply going to bed when you feel drowsy aren't enough to ensure you're reaping all the benefits of sleep. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, good sleep hygiene depends on having a consistent sleep and wake routine every day of the week. This means hitting the sheets and starting your morning at the same time, whether it's a work day or the weekend.

Of course, following a strict sleep schedule is often easier said than done. We all have nights when we turn in later than usual after a chaotic day, and sometimes sleeping in is just the self-care you need (because who really wants to wake up at 6 a.m. on a Sunday?). However, the numerous mental health benefits associated with following a bedtime and wake time might be enough to keep you committed to your schedule. Bye bye sad girl era, and hello alarm clock queen.


You might feel happier

Mood is an easy way to gauge the state of your mental health, and it's also one of the first things you sacrifice when you don't follow a solid sleep schedule. Revenge bedtime procrastination — delaying sleep to squeeze in free time — tends to lead to sleep deprivation, which has been linked to stress and irritation. A similar phenomenon known as "social jet lag," which describes the habit of going to bed later on the weekends, can also mess with your emotions. A 2017 study published in the journal Sleep discovered that social jet lag is associated with worse mood — even if staying out late with friends seemed worth it at the time. If the thought of losing sleep makes you cranky, you're not alone: A 2019 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that research participants who restricted their slumber experienced more anger compared to participants who maintained their regular sleep schedule.


If you still think it's no big deal to sometimes stay up late, as long as you make up for it by sleeping in the next morning, think again. "People like to sleep in on the weekends because it makes them feel better," Kelly Glazer Baron, a researcher and clinical health psychologist, told PBS News Hour. "The problem is you're at a greater disadvantage for getting on track during the week." This can perpetuate sleep issues, making it difficult to ever make headway.

You may be less likely to develop some mental health conditions

Mental health conditions can be sparked by many different factors, some of which are largely out of our control (for example, genetics and family history). Still, there's some evidence that lifestyle choices can play a role, and following a strict sleep schedule could be one critical component. "While insomnia can be a symptom of psychiatric disorders, like anxiety and depression, it is now recognized that sleep problems can also contribute to the onset and worsening of different mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, and even suicidal ideation," Elizabeth Blake Zakarin, assistant professor and clinical psychologist at the Columbia University Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders, shared with Columbia Psychiatry News. She notes that even people who don't have a mental health disorder may experience heightened anxiety and distress when they lack enough shut-eye.


While much of the research focuses only on the effects of sleep deprivation, some studies look at links between irregular sleep schedules and mental health conditions. One 2021 study published in NPJ Digital Medicine found that variable sleeping hours impact depression levels just as losing sleep does. In other words, a self-imposed bedtime could help safeguard you against depression and other mood disorders.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

You'll probably stress less

If you've developed an always-late-to-everything bad habit, you know how stressful running behind can be. In fact, a survey by A.Vogel (via the Irish Mirror) found that being late is the most common cause of stress. The finding makes sense, given that tardiness can trigger a domino effect of additional stressors, from angering a date to potentially being fired at work. Even when the consequences are minimal, waking up late leaves less time to get tasks done, which could leave you feeling frazzled the rest of the day.


Waking up late isn't the only problem — heading to bed later than planned can also be a major source of stress, especially if you start racking up sleep debt. Sleep deprivation increases cortisol, the body's stress hormone. Conversely, getting sufficient shut-eye is known to lower cortisol levels. Even if it seems like a good idea to tackle stress by staying up late or waking early to get more done, chances are you'll only feel more on edge in the end.

You may become a better problem solver

Life problems — whether a friendship breakup or an important career-related decision — got you stumped? You might just need to follow a regular sleep schedule. Though it can be tempting to stay up late racking your brain for a solution, experts generally suggest going to bed at your usual time and "sleeping on it" to more effectively problem solve later. "Sleep is not just helpful, but it seems to be critical in solving problems," Stuart Fogel, a cognitive neuroscientist and the lead researcher in a study on sleep and learning, told The Royal Institute of Mental Health Research. "When you're exposed to this problem through trial and error eventually you get there, but if you have a period of sleep, it'll result in this eureka moment where you're all of a sudden able to solve this problem that you weren't able to do before you slept."


Another way that sleep affects problem solving — especially in our personal lives — concerns thinking patterns. In a 2020 study published in the Journal of Sleep Research, researchers determined a link between sleep loss and a negativity bias. This means that sleep-deprived people may imagine problems to be worse than they really are and struggle to find solutions or a silver lining.

This doesn't mean you can sleep away all your troubles. Still, consistently getting enough sleep could make problems feel at least a little lighter.

Your relationships might improve

Relationships are important for overall well-being. This is something you're probably reminded of after spending time with loved ones, and it's a fact supported by research, too. And, while dating apps and girls' nights might give your romantic and social life a boost, your bed could be an equally useful tool.


While you might not find the love of your life or grow closer to friends while snoozing away, getting enough sleep every day might strengthen your social skills. According to a 2022 study published in PLOS Biology, sleep loss makes people less likely to help others (people are even less likely to donate to charities after transitioning to Daylight Savings Time). An older 2010 study published in the Journal of Sleep Research found that people who lost sleep were less likely to trust others.

Sure, skipping a late-night party to prioritize sleep might keep you from mixing and mingling with new people. But the payoff is clear: Following a sleep routine means having more empathy, support, and trust to devote to the relationships that matter most. This, in turn, could result in a major boost to your mental health.