Sleep, food, or exercise: Which has the biggest impact on mental health? – Stuff.co.nz


Posted: December 13, 2020 at 7:59 pm

Parents have long known the benefits of a good nights sleep, but now a new study suggests it could be key to improving mental health in young people.

Members of the Department of Psychology at University of Otago say sleep quality is an important predictor of mental health and wellbeing in young adults, whereas physical activity and diet are secondary but still significant factors.

Researchers analysed data from 1111 young adults in New Zealand and the United States.

The participants were aged between 18 and 25 and were asked a range of questions about their health, including the quality and quantity of their sleep, physical activity and food consumption.

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They were also asked about their socioeconomic status, alcohol use and smoking.

The results, published in Frontiers in Psychology, show that sleep quality was the strongest predictor of depressive symptoms and wellbeing.

Gregory Pappas

While diet and physical activity are important for good mental health, sleep is the most important factor. (Stock image)

When tested side-by-side, sleep quality significantly outranked other health behaviours in the prediction of mental health and wellbeing, the report said.

The breadth of our sample suggests the phenomenon of young adult mental ill-health is pervasive and does not necessarily reflect geographical or cultural environments.

Sleep quality was followed by sleep quantity and physical activity, the study found.

We cannot be certain that the health behaviours are driving the differences in mental health and well-being.

For example, it is possible that depressive symptoms could be causing sleep disturbances.

The report acknowledged the study relied on participants accurate recall of their health and lifestyle behaviours on a typical week, which could lead to inaccurate reporting.

The findings suggest that future lifestyle interventions targeting sleep quality may be most beneficial at improving mental health and wellbeing, the study says.

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Sleep, food, or exercise: Which has the biggest impact on mental health? - Stuff.co.nz

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