A new study led by the University of Otago found that getting good quality sleep, eating more raw fruits and vegetables, and exercising regularly helps people achieve and maintain better mental health and well-being.
The research, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, surveyed more than 1100 young adults from the United States and New Zealand regarding their sleep, diet, physical activity, and mental health.
Leading to Good Mental Health and Well-Being
The lead author of the study, Shay-Ruby Wickham, says that the team found sleep quality – and not sleep quantity – was the most powerful predictor of well-being and mental health.
“This is surprising because sleep recommendations predominantly focus on quantity rather than quality. 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 and lower well-being, sleep quality significantly outranked sleep quantity in predicting mental health and well-being,” Wickham explained.
She continued: “This suggests that sleep quality should be promoted alongside sleep quantity as tools for improving mental health and well-being within young adults.”
The Three Pillars of Health
As per the study, depressive manifestations were lower for young adults who slept 9.7 hours per night, and well-being feelings were highest for those who slept eight hours a night.
Well-being was also highest for people who consumed 4.8 servings of raw fruit and vegetables per day – those who reported eating less than two servings or more than eight servings had lower well-being feelings.
“Sleep, physical activity, and a healthy diet can be thought of as three pillars of health, which could contribute to promoting optimal well-being among young adults, a population where the prevalence of mental disorders is high, and well-being is suboptimal,” Wickham says.
Associate Professor Tamlin Conner of the Department of Psychology and senior author of the study added that most previous studies assay these health behaviors separately.
“We showed that they are all important for predicting which young adults are flourishing versus suffering,” she said.