Rest & Recharge: The Role of Sleep in Mental Health (Part 3/4 of the Mind-Body Series)
Updated: Jul 12, 2020
Are you pulling all-nighters and compensating with power naps and energy drinks? Read this, then put down your phone and go to bed.
“Sleep can wait until I get this done.”
It’s a familiar story. I’ve heard it many times from many highly driven individuals with a lot on their plate. It goes something like this: A self-described go-getter will routinely deprive themselves of sleep for months at a time in order to meet the demands of a particular project or looming deadline – only to spend several months after that in a post-project crash.
During that time, they feel physically exhausted, mentally and emotionally drained, and incapable of even staying on top of their basic daily responsibilities. For some, this crash has become so predictable that they plan their schedules around it.
What’s going on here? Well, surprisingly, despite the fact that sleep is one of those non-negotiable biological needs, we don’t always treat it like one. There’s always that work report to finish, or that paper to research, or emails to get ahead of. The problem is that, while we can sometimes ride out the effects of short-term sleep deprivation, it inevitably catches up with us in the long-term.
It turns out we actually do need our average 7-9 hours of restful sleep, and things start going south when we don’t get it. Whenever we deprioritize sleep because we want to increase our productivity, progress towards a goal, or make up for procrastination, what we’re actually doing is working against our own internal clock, ignoring our physiological needs, and ultimately setting ourselves back.
Let’s take a closer look at how missing out on sleep affects our mental wellbeing.
What Happens When I Don’t Get Enough Sleep?
The symptoms of chronic sleep deprivation may take some time to show up in an impactful way, but they are not fun once they do. Many of the physical symptoms, such as fatigue and low energy levels, seem to be a given. But what about the effects of sleep deprivation on our mental health?
If you’ve ever gone multiple nights in a row without a good night’s rest, you may have experienced the impact that sleep deprivation can have on your mood first-hand. In fact, symptoms such as irritability, impatience, anger, sadness, and negative thinking patterns are all quite common when we don’t get enough sleep.
On top of that, chronic sleep deprivation can contribute to existing mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and bipolar disorder, or increase the risk of developing them. Individuals who have been diagnosed with these conditions are also more likely to report difficulty sleeping, creating a self-perpetuating cycle.
Here’s another fun cycle for you. When we’re stressed we find it hard to sleep, but when we don’t sleep we also feel more stressed. Why does this happen? Sleep deprivation increases levels of stress hormones in the body, and those same stress hormones make it more difficult to sleep. The good news is that this relationship also works both ways, as practices that tend to lower stress also tend to improve sleep!
When it comes to general adulting, chronic sleep deprivation actually interferes with our ability to concentrate, focus, retain information, and remember things in general, which has some hefty implications for our overall work and academic performance.
So now we’ve seen that insufficient sleep can have profound effects on our mood, stress, and ability to focus. Where does that leave us?
Fortunately, interventions that improve sleep also seem to alleviate these symptoms! In order to get a better sense of how these interventions help us out, let’s take a closer look at some of the common obstacles to sleeping well.
Why Am I Not Getting Enough Sleep?
Now that we know how sleep deprivation can impact our mental health, the solution seems straightforward enough, right? Get more sleep. Then why do so many people struggle to do so, even when they have made sleep a priority?
If you’re struggling to get a good night’s rest despite your best efforts, there are a number of possibilities we can consider for why that might be:
Your sleep schedule is all over the place.
Your circadian rhythms are out of wack.
You’re stressing yourself out before bed.
You’re getting amped up before bed.
Your sleep environment is messing you up.
In other words, your sleep hygiene may need some tweaking.
What is sleep hygiene, you might ask? Sleep hygiene is simply a term used to describe habits and practices that support getting a good night’s sleep. These are the little things we do in the hours leading up to bed, and the ways in which we can manipulate our sleeping environment itself to better suit our needs.
How Can I Improve My Sleep Hygiene?
There are many different practices consistent with good sleep hygiene out there, and some may fit in better with your lifestyle than others. It can be a good idea to play around with a few techniques at first, and see what seems to work best.
To get you started, here are 12 tips for removing some of the obstacles in the way of a good night’s sleep and introducing new habits that support it!
As tempting as it might be to deprioritize our sleep when life seems to get more demanding and the responsibilities start piling up, doing so only starts us down a path that ultimately makes things more difficult. Fortunately, it’s never too late to start changing our habits and our mindset!
I invite you to take a few moments each day to reflect on how well your own priorities are currently serving you, and consider if any could use a reshuffle. Once we realize that investing in our own health and wellness actually sets the stage for thriving rather than simply keeping up, it can be a true game-changer!
Not sleeping much lately? Book a free consultation to discuss how we can work together to help you rest and recharge like a pro!