We live in a high-stress world where the pressure to perform continues to grow. In that kind of environment, we all need to take measures to protect our mental health. Adequate sleep, that’s at least a full seven hours, lets your body and mind function as they were intended and keeps you emotionally balanced.
Lack of Sleep and Emotional Balance
At any given time, anywhere from 28 to 44 percent of adults get less than seven hours of sleep. Without sleep, the brain doesn’t have enough time to clean out toxic proteins that collect between brain cells. Your mental clarity and thinking abilities may also suffer as the brain doesn’t get to prune or strengthen communication pathways as it should.
But when it comes to your mental health, it’s the brain’s emotion and logic centers that come into play. Lack of sleep causes the brain’s emotional center, a portion of the brain called the amygdala, to become overactive and sensitive to any kind of negative stimulation like an argument with a spouse or a change in schedule.
Part of the reason the amygdala can run rampant while you’re tired is because the brain’s logic center, located in the prefrontal cortex, goes quiet. It doesn’t exert its normal influence over your emotions. The logic that might normally keep your emotions in check isn’t there to damper your emotional responses.
Essentially, sleep acts as an emotional regulator.
Sleep Issues Linked with Mental Health Disorders
The changes in the brain that take place during sleep deprivation increase your risk of developing mental health disorders. Nearly 15 to 20 percent of people who have insomnia will eventually develop depression. The changes in the amygdala and prefrontal cortex increase negative feelings that contribute to higher stress and anxiety, but the effects can go even further.
A study conducted amongst twins compared sleep hours to the rate of depressive symptoms. The more sleep was lost, the more likely depressive symptoms became. A lack of sleep was a higher indicator of the development of depression than was a genetic predisposition.
While the exact mechanisms at work weren’t identified, there are clearly connections to changes in the sleep-deprived brain and mental health.
Developing Better Sleep Habits
While sleep won’t cure all cases of depression or other mental health issues, it can, at the very least, relieve symptoms. Personal habits and behaviors strongly influence the sleep cycle, which gives you a chance to improve your sleep by:
- Taking Comfort Seriously: A cool, dark, quiet, environment supports the body’s need for sleep. However, you can do more to tailor your sleep experience to your specific needs. Those with sensory issues or anxiety often benefit from a weighted blanket while light sleepers may need a white noise machine. Do you struggle with pain points? Try an adjustable bed that supports your body where you need it most.
- Actively Manage Stress: Stress can be a major sleep disruptor. In the morning or at night, it doesn’t matter when you do it, but make time to keep stress from overwhelming your mind at bedtime. We suggest adding 10 minutes of meditation or yoga to your day. Meditation has been shown to strengthen the connection between the emotion and logic centers of the brain to balance emotions while yoga can reduce stress-related inflammation.
- Head Outdoors: Sunlight helps regulate the release of sleep hormones and the more you get the better. Take a walk at lunchtime or enjoy an ice tea on the patio. Time spent in nature can also reduce activity in the area of the brain responsible for depressive thoughts, which can boost your mental health and ability to sleep.
Your mental health isn’t something to be ignored. Adequate sleep lets your brain and the rest of your body work as they were intended. Make your sleep time count by being consistent with your bedtime and put sleep at the top of your priority list.
Guest Author Bio: Samantha Kent is a researcher for SleepHelp.org. Her favorite writing topic is how getting enough sleep can improve your life. Currently residing in Boise, Idaho, she sleeps in a California King bed, often with a cat on her face