We’ve all had nights when we don’t sleep well and feel groggy and irritable the next day. But did you know that sleep and our sleeping patterns have far-ranging effects on our mental health and capabilities?
In this article we’ll have a look at the effects that too little sleep – and sometimes too much – can have on our minds and overall mental capabilities. We’ll also look at ways in which you can ensure that you get a good night’s rest.
A lack of sleep for one night may mean that you feel groggy and irritated, at least until you get some good sleep. Constantly burning the candle at two ends and not getting enough sleep, however, could leave you will long-term health problems that can be both physical and mental.
For example, too little sleep – and then sleep deprivation because of that – could lead to a higher chance to get coronary heart disease and certain cancers. Your whole immune system is also compromised if you don’t get enough sleep.
Mentally, the toll on your body can be immense as well, not to mention dangerous.
The mental strain of sleep deprivation includes:
- a higher chance of depression and anxiety,
- being unable to cope with stress,
- a chance of going into a manic state if you suffer from bipolar disorder,
- impaired memory and thought processes.
A higher chance of depression and anxiety
Mood and sleep are closely linked and, if you can’t think clearly (like when you’re sleep deprived), your emotions are also all over the place. This can influence your professional and personal relationships negatively.
This negative influence on your life could be manifested as mood problems like anger and depression.
Being unable to cope with stress
It’s not difficult to see how the irritability and anxiety that sleep deprivation cause can also lead you to not being able to cope as well with stress like you normally can. The levels of stress you feel could even cause you to sleep even less and then you could go into a stress-sleep spin; in which you sleep less because you’re stressed and stress more because you can’t sleep.
These high stress levels could also lead to more negative thoughts and feelings and, in turn, exacerbate anxiety and depression.
A chance of going into a manic phase if you suffer from bipolar disorder
If you suffer from bipolar disorder, not sleeping – or not sleeping enough, can lead you to go manic. During the manic phase, sufferers will sleep even less and yet seem to have more energy. This is not a good thing and a time to be productive, though, as the manic phase of bipolar can be very negative.
After the manic phase, the person will most likely slip into depression, during which they may still experience sleep disturbances. This will inevitably cause more depression and more anxiety if it’s not treated.
(Treatment may include medication, which should be taken even if you start to feel better. Quitting medication could leave you with more unwanted side-effects. If in doubt, contact your healthcare practitioner before starting or stopping any medication.)
Impaired memory and thought processes
Being sleepy slows down your thought processes. These slowed processes mean that your reasoning and judgement is impaired and that you can make wrong choices at work or in your personal life that you would otherwise not have made.
Memory works essentially by your brain taking info from short-term memory to long-term memory. This “filing” of information doesn’t happen properly when you don’t sleep well – and this is also the reason why learning becomes so difficult when you’re tired.
In time, you’ll get angry and frustrated because of the inability to focus, to remember, and to regulate your emotions and thoughts properly.
Steps to take for better sleep
There are, however, steps that you can take to help you sleep better at night, including:
- Not napping during the daytime for the most part (sometimes a nap can do wonders, however!)
- Cutting caffeine, energy drinks and other stimulants and not drinking these for a few hours before bed
- Wake up and go to bed at the same time every day – even over weekends
- Not eating supper too late in the evening or eating a too-heavy supper
- Exercising regularly, but not exercising too close to your bedtime. If you want to, however, you can do yoga and Tai Chi to help you get into a relaxed state of mind and sleep better
- Stop smoking or drinking alcohol too close to bedtime.
Better sleep means that you’re able to focus better, which leads you to being more productive and present in your everyday life. Just like not sleeping enough or not sleeping well has a domino effect on your health in a negative way, so too can there be a domino effect when you’re sleeping enough or sleeping well.