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How Does Sleep Affect Your Mental Health?

Wednesday, 09 May 2018 18:54  by Anna B.

We all know that sleep is vital. Our body gives us many clues and warnings that it's feeling the effects of exhaustion, ranging from chronic yawning to heavy eyes that slip closed while you're watching the late night news. A lack of sleep does more than just make us grumpy, though. If we're not getting enough sleep, there are physical and even mental ramifications.

There are many reasons why people miss out on sleep. Maybe you've got an important project due at work, and you're burning the midnight oil to get it done. Maybe you're a night owl who finds that night time is ideal for spending time with friends or focusing on your hobbies. However, for many, lack of sleep is caused by sleep disorders such as insomnia.

Whatever the reason, after a while, those missed hours of sleep begin to take a toll. Poor sleep habits have been linked to serious health conditions such as heart disease, cancer and weight gain. Sleep also plays a role in immune health, so those not catching enough Z's tend to get sick easier.

More than that, though, when we don't have enough sleep, it begins to affect our mental health. Problems sleeping affects tens of millions of Americans. Sleep is not just wasted hours you could spend doing something else. It may be the most important thing you do all day.

What Happens in Your Brain While You Sleep?

While you're sleeping, your brain is busy. Almost your entire brain actively participates in the process of sleeping and dreaming. Studies show that essential biological processes are occuring during this time. Our sleep consists of several cycles, and each is tied to specific brain waves and neurons firing making different brain connections.

When you don't have enough sleep, it can impair brain function in several ways:

  • Pathways in your brain can't be formed or maintained.
  • Your hippocampus has a more difficult time creating new memories or memorizing information.
  • You might have more difficulty concentrating or responding quickly.
  • The connection between the amygdala and the medial prefrontal cortex is disrupted, leading to greater stress and anger.
  • Areas of the brain that moderate risk-taking behaviors are affected.

How Important Is Sleep to Mental Health?

As our understanding increases of what happens to our brain while we're sleeping, it shows us how vitally important these hours of restfulness are. With the rise of sleep disorders throughout the country, there's also been an increase in the occurrence of mental health conditions.

For years, experts believed that sleep disruptions were just a symptom of these conditions. However, research now suggests that lack of sleep can contribute to or even cause a variety of mental health conditions.

Common Mental Health Problems Related to Lack of Sleep

Because of how busy our brain is during the sleep process, it's no wonder that many common mental health problems can arise due to a lack of sleep. Sleep disorders lead to feelings of drowsiness during the day, apathy, inability to concentrate and can even cause nightmares during the nighttime hours.

Overwhelming evidence suggests that there is definitely a connection between sleeping problems and mental health. Here are some of psychological symptoms and conditions that are tied to difficulties sleeping:

  • Irritability and anger
  • Heightened emotions
  • Memory issues
  • Depression
  • Anxiety and other associated disorders like panic, OCD and phobias
  • ADHD

Getting Quality Sleep

Many people who experience insomnia or difficulties sleeping turn to prescription sleep aids. Although these are sometimes a short-term solution, they often lose their effectiveness over time. You should speak to a healthcare professional to see if there is a better option or an underlying issue that needs to be treated.

Many people who experience insomnia or difficulties sleeping turn to prescription sleep aids. Although these are sometimes a short-term solution, they often lose their effectiveness over time. You should speak to a healthcare professional to see if there is a better option or an underlying issue that needs to be treated.

  • Go to sleep and wake up at the same times every day, even on weekends. Consistency is something your body craves.
  • Avoid food, nicotine, caffeine and alcohol right before bedtime.
  • Put away your electronic devices an hour before you go to sleep. These emit a blue light that makes falling asleep more difficult.
  • Exercise earlier in the day, but not right before bedtime. Light exercise, like walking or stretching, is okay for relaxation purposes.
  • Make your bedroom your sleeping space, so your brain associates it with restfulness.

Sleep is essential to positive mental health. Taking active steps to improve the quality of your sleep will also improve your overall outlook and give you a better quality of life.

Last modified on Wednesday, 01 August 2018 22:38

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