Sleep, Diet, and Exercise All Impact Your Mental Health, but One Plays a Bigger Role Than the Others
As it turns out, the quality of your sleep (rather than how much sleep you're getting) matters most.
It's no secret that the three pillars of health are getting a good night's sleep, maintaining a healthy and balanced diet, and exercising at least five times a week for 30 minutes each day. According to TODAY, a recent study looked at the specific relationship between these three things to understand which had the overall greatest impact on our mental health. Researchers found that the quality of sleep you get each night—not the length of sleep—played the biggest role in one's overall mental health.
In the study, researchers surveyed more than 1,100 adults from ages 18 to 25 years old measuring how much and how well they slept, how often they exercised, and what their diet consisted of, including how many raw fruit and vegetables they ate each week on average. Participants were also asked to provide insight into their mental health, including whether they felt depressed or felt that they were doing well in life.
After researchers studied the results of the survey, they found that participants who slept better, and those who slept between eight to 12 hours per night, reported fewer symptoms of depression. According to the study, inadequate physical activity was the second-strongest predictor of depression among the participants. Finally, consuming at least five servings per day of raw fruits and vegetables significantly predicted whether participants felt that they were flourishing, meaning they agreed with statements such as, "I lead a purposeful and meaningful life" and "I am engaged and interested in my daily activities."
"While we did see that both too little sleep—less than eight hours—and too much sleep—more than 12 hours—were associated with higher depressive symptoms…sleep quality significantly outranked sleep quantity in predicting mental health and well-being," said Shay-Ruby Wickham, a graduate student at Otago Medical School at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, and lead author of the study published in Frontiers in Psychology. A 2019 study from the University of California, Berkeley, found that just one sleepless night can trigger up to a 30 percent increase in anxiety levels.
In order to get a quality night's sleep, sleep experts recommend sticking to a consistent sleep schedule, avoiding caffeine in the afternoon, avoiding eating or drinking alcohol right before bed, limiting screen time before bed, and exercising frequently.