If you have ever been sleep deprived for any extended period of time you will have most likely noticed that not only did you feel tired, but your mood was negatively impacted too. Sleep deprivation causes us to feel depressed, irritable, short fused, anxious and unmotivated.
Dr. Matt Walker, is a neuroscientist who wrote the book “Why We Sleep”. One of his studies found people who are sleep-deprived for extended periods of their lives are more susceptible to mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. They are also at increased risk of developing cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, obesity, stroke, diabetes, heart attacks and chronic pain.
We live in a time when coffee devotion has reached new heights, and we’re all stressed out by our hectic lifestyles, working long hours, and swiping through our Instagram and Facebook feeds before going to bed. We’re facing an epidemic of sleep debt. We are doing ourselves a disservice by not getting enough rest.
The importance of sleep cannot be overstated. Getting sufficient sleep helps to mitigate one of the potential causes of mental illness. Insomnia has been linked with other sleep troubles, as well as an increased risk of depression, in studies.
How sleep deprivation affects mental health
When we sleep we do it in 90-minute blocks. We have two distinct types of sleep: quiet sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. The period of sleep when you pass through four stages of slumber into deep sleep is known as quiet sleep. The stage of sleep where we do our dreaming and it improves our learning, memory, and mood is known as REM sleep. REM sleep has also been found to be the time during our sleep that we experience emotional first aid. Yes, our body’s use sleep to provide us with therapy! When we are sleep deprived we are not sufficiently rested which is linked to lower REM sleep and greater stress hormone production, neurotransmitter levels, and mood changes.
The role of adenosine
We are more likely to be unable to sleep when we run low on adenosine. Adenosine is a chemical involved in the regulation of circadian rhythms, sleep homeostasis, and mood in the brain.
As we wake up and are exposed to light, our adenosine levels rise and melatonin (your sleep hormone) drops. Then in the evening, as our adenosine levels reach their peak, they help us fall asleep. The adenosine level in our brains drops as we sleep, allowing us to begin the rebuilding process when we wake up in the morning
Caffeine inhibits adenosine receptors and, as a result, stops the formation of adenosine that is both necessary for getting a good night’s sleep and for keeping our emotions in check. If we want to enjoy yur coffee but not jeopardize our sleep, the key is to avoid drinking it after noon. This works for the majority of people, however if you’re still anxious and unable to sleep, eliminating caffeine altogether might be a good idea.
For some, that may be too harrowing to consider, but if you find out that it is preventing you from sleeping, it’s definitely worth the trade-off.
The problem with ‘blue light’
Excessive blue light exposure also has an effect on sleep quality and, as a result, mood disorders. The biological clock in our brain is sensitive to light and dark signals, allowing us to determine when it’s time to sleep and wake. This is why your brain believes it’s daytime, you should be awake, and you should stay awake if you’re seated on a laptop with the blue light of the screen at 10 p.m. That’s precisely the wrong message we want to be sending to our brains.
Using the fl.ux app, wearing blue light blocking glasses, dimming the lights in your home, and making them warm light will all assist you in telling your brain to relax and begin the wind down process for sleep to arrive. In addition, blackout blinds can help as well.
What about eating late?
A late dinner may also contribute to poor sleep quality because our digestive system is left to work late and process our meal while we sleep. The consequence is a higher heart rate during the night, which is overstimulating for some of us. The greatest thing to do is to keep the dinner hour and bedtime three to four hours apart. If that isn’t feasible for your schedule, eat something lighter for supper.
- What else can you be doing to sleep your way to happiness?
- Ditch the weekend sleep in. Go to bed and wake up at the same time everyday.
- Ensure your bedroom temperature is cool, aim for 18 degrees celsius
- Avoid alcohol before bedtime as it blocks your REM sleep
- Manage your stress. Learn more about the relationship between melatonin and cortisol here
How much sleep should we be aiming to get for maximum happiness?
This will differ from person to person. Nick Littlehales is a sleep coach for top international soccer teams and claims that people require between four and six sleep cycles each night. This is something you should experiment with on your own. You might need six, seven, or nine hours of sleep per night.
Sleep is too often neglected, but it cannot be understated as a method to boost your mental health. And it’s not just about your mood. You’ll be more productive, patient, inclined to purchase healthy food instead of junk, and motivated to exercise. That is powerful stuff that will leave you feeling good.
If you want to improve your sleep and mental health book in to see one of our qualified naturopaths or nutritionists and begin the process of addressing the cause of your mood problems and sleep.