Running On Empty: How Sleep Deprivation Can Affect Your Mental Health
The worlds scientists have spent decades attempting to crack the mysteries of how and why we sleep. Nowadays, sleep research is an essential field within the health and wellness sector, and for good reason.
Its a well-established fact that we need enough sleep each night to help us cope with the many demands of modern life. Specialists recommend we get at least 8 hours worth of shut eye each night to stay happy and healthy, both mentally and physically.
The connection between sleep and mental health is still undergoing ongoing research, but many scientists are confident that proper sleeping habits can help you maintain long term psychological resilience. Sleep deprivation has proven to induce anxiety, emotional unrest, negative thought patterns, and even depression.
Heres what you need to know about the links between sleep deprivation and mental health issues, and what you can do to maintain healthy habits.
Not Prioritizing It Has Negative Health Consequences
Its estimated that about one-third of adults and two-thirds of high school students dont get enough sleep each night .
Unfortunately, not getting enough sleep can cause issues other than feeling tired.
If youre sleep deprived, you may engage in poor decision-making, be less creative, and have an increased risk of motor vehicle accidents (
And because its the time when your body clears waste from the brain, it may be the reason why poor sleep seems to be associated with an increased risk of Alzheimers disease .
Not getting enough sleep is linked to many adverse effects, including impaired focus and decision-making and an increased risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and Alzheimers.
What Happens When You Dont Get Enough Sleep
Itâs important to find the right balance and get enough sleep, because otherwise you risk impacting your brain and bodily functions. When you donât sleep properly, your body requires more energy to do day-to-day actions, as itâs working harder to keep you awake, Woodman explains. âIt could impair your attention span, concentration, strategic thinking, risk assessment, and reaction times,â he says. âIt can make it more difficult to control your appetite and might cause you to gain weight.â The 2018 study found that those who slept for four hours or less performed like they were eight years older during cognitive activities â essentially, getting four hours of sleep is like aging your brain eight years overnight.
Getting too little sleep wonât just affect you the following day, either. Consecutive sleep loss has been associated with âdegraded trajectories of daily affective and physical well-being,â according to a 2021 study out of the University of Florida. Three consecutive nights of sleep loss will greatly impact your body and mind, including your mental health. And if you think you can simply repay your sleep debt on weekends and be more productive on weekdays, think again: This study found that even one night of sleep loss can significantly impair your daily functioning.
Dr. Tim Woodman, Medical Director at Bupa UK Health Clinics
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Inflammation And Weakened Immunity
If youre sleep deprived, it can also compromise your immune system.
According to Dr. Balachandran, a sleep expert,
A lot of studies show our T-cells go down if we are sleep deprived and inflammatory cytokines go up.
Simply put, a lack of sleep can weaken your immune system and increase inflammation.
Why does this matter?
When inflammation increases, your skin will appear more red and irritated.
Studies also suggest that a lack of sleep can trigger autoimmune disease .
This means your chances of skin diseases like psoriasis could increase. And that is a surefire way to get unhealthy, damaged skin.
Why Is Sleep Important
Sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being throughout your life. Getting enough quality sleep at the right times can help protect your mental health, physical health, quality of life, and safety.
The way you feel while you’re awake depends in part on what happens while you’re sleeping. During sleep, your body is working to support healthy brain function and maintain your physical health. In children and teens, sleep also helps support growth and development.
The damage from sleep deficiency can occur in an instant , or it can harm you over time. For example, ongoing sleep deficiency can raise your risk for some chronic health problems. It also can affect how well you think, react, work, learn, and get along with others.
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Poor Sleep May Put You At Higher Risk For:
- Alzheimers disease
- Increased appetite and unhealthy eating
Remember: 7 to 9 will help you feel fine, so get your ZZZs!
Learn more at heart.org/sleep.
*All health/medical information on this website has been reviewed and approved by the American Heart Association, based on scientific research and American Heart Association guidelines. Find more information on our content editorial process.
Research On The Circadian Rhythm Of Sleep
Although much research on our circadian rhythms has been conducted, researchers are discovering new and innovative ways to treat conditions like PTSD by focusing on how our circadian rhythms regulate fear memory and stress response. By better understanding the interaction between the circadian system and fear memory processing in the brain.
Research on how circadian rhythms regulate brain processes is an area of science not extensively explored. However, recent studies show the circadian system’s critical role in many different neurological disorders like schizophrenia, eating disorders, drug addiction, and alcoholism.
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Dementia And Alzheimers Disease
Itâs not clear exactly why sleep and dementia are linked, but there are a few theories about the effects that show up in the brain.
During deep sleep, your brain sweeps away waste called amyloid proteins. Research suggests that if you donât log enough slumber, these proteins build up. They form clumps called plaques. Itâs thought that these plaques affect how brain cells work. Over time, this may lead to dementia, including Alzheimerâs disease.
High levels of amyloid plaque can also keep you from getting enough deep sleep. Many people with Alzheimerâs disease also get confused or anxious in the evening, a problem called sundowning. This can affect their rest. A regular bedtime routine and avoiding caffeine or alcohol in the evenings may help.
What Happens To Your Skin When You Are Sleep Deprived
When you dont get enough sleep, it can affect a wide range of things including your hormones, your stress levels, and even your eating habits.
All of which can have a substantial impact on the health of your skin.
In fact, one study led by Dr. Elma Baron found that people who dont get enough quality sleep show more signs of skin aging.
These signs included fine lines, uneven pigmentation and reduced skin elasticitymeaning more wrinkles.
That being said, lets take a look at how exactly a lack of sleep can affect your skin.
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What Is Circadian Rhythm
Our internal biological systems function on circadian rhythms, which regulate our sleep-wake cycle over an average 24-hour period. Although internally regulated, our circadian rhythm is also influenced by our behavior and external environmental factors that affect our natural sleep patterns.
The circadian rhythm of an individual anywhere in the world is predominantly determined by their visual response to light and dark. The difference in daylight hours between the four seasons impacts our circadian rhythm, which is never constant but rather a response to light and other external influences. The foundation of natural life is based on the fact that light promotes wakefulness and darkness promotes sleep however, the complications of lifestyle choices, artificial light, and our ability to travel to different time zones play havoc with the natural order of our circadian rhythms.
Nearly every tissue and organ in our body functions on its biological clock, which is linked to the master clock in our brain that ultimately regulates our circadian rhythm. Our circadian rhythm is regulated by a group of about 20 000 nerve cells called the suprachiasmatic nucleus in the brain’s hypothalamus region, which receives and responds to direct input from the eyes. To simplify circadian rhythm, our biological clock regulates our sleep pattern, but it also caters to the means to perform daytime activities optimally.
Reduces Impact Of Anxiety
Anxiety disorders, which affect 20% of Americans , can substantially impact both health and well-being. As with many mental health conditions, anxiety disorders can also make it harder to sleep. Symptoms of anxiety , both physical and mental, can prevent people from getting the rest they need. Sleep deprivation, in turn, can then trigger or exacerbate the symptoms of anxiety.
There is some good news. Studies show that common treatments for anxiety , such as CBT, also help address sleeping issues. Low impact movements, like yoga or tai chi, have also been shown to reduce anxiety and increase the quality of sleep . These and other relaxation exercises can easily be integrated into sleep routines, helping to both manage anxiety and increase the likelihood of a good nights rest.
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Reach Out To Your Healthcare Team
The first and most important thing to do if you think you have manic episodes, is to reach out to your mental health provider. This could include a psychiatrist, psychiatric nurse practitioner, counselor, social worker, or other mental health professional. If youre worried that youre close to the onset of a manic episode, contact your mental health provider as soon as possible to discuss your symptoms.
If you have a loved one or family member who is familiar with your illness, they may also help you receive support.
Sleep Boosts Mental Wellbeing
Given that a single sleepless night can make you irritable and moody the following day, it’s not surprising that chronic sleep debt may lead to long-term mood disorders like clinical depression and generalised anxiety disorder in adults.
When people with anxiety or depression were surveyed to calculate their sleeping habits, it turned out that most of them slept for less than 6 hours a night.
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Some Tips On Getting A Good Nights Sleep
If youve been having trouble getting enough good sleep, the good news is there are many ways you can improve your sleep habits. Try these tips:
- Get a routine and stick to it. Try going to bed around the same time every night and getting up at the same time each morning.
- Avoid drinking coffee and alcohol too close to bedtime. And finish eating at least two hours before your head hits the pillow.
- Keep TVs and iPads out of your bedroom.
- Make your bedroom a haven. Make sure your bed is comfortable. Turn the lights down as you get into bed. Read using a bedside light.
- Try some simple meditation, like closing your eyes for 510 minutes and focusing on taking deep, slow breaths.
- Enjoy a warm bath.
- Dont lie awake watching the clock. If you are tossing and turning, try getting up and reading a book for half an hour or so before trying to go to sleep again.
The Fetus Log And Yearner
The Fetus position, a type of side sleeping, is when people lay by their side and curl in their knees towards the chest. Their general personality is shy, and has a “big heart.” The study also reveals that 41 percent of individuals sleep in this manner, making it the most sleeping position.
The Log position, another type of side sleeping, is when you lay by your side with both arms down by your side. The study says that people who sleep like this are easy going, and can be gullible at times. The study found out that 15 percent sleep in this manner.
The Yearner is another variant of side sleeping where a person lays by their side with both arms out in front. They were found to possess a suspicious character and take their time in making decisions, but once they have decided, they won’t change their mind. The study states that 13 percent of people sleep like this.
Since these types of sleeping positions are all variations of side sleeping, the health benefits are the same.
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Best: Sleeping On Your Side
The majority of people find this sleeping position to be the most comfortable, and for good reason. The lateral posture is recommended by physicians and sleep specialists because it has a number of benefits. With the right mattress, the spine can remain elongated and relatively neutral while on your side. This helps prevent undue neck, back, and shoulder pain.
We made this handy visual chart to clarify the advantages and disadvantages of the three main sleeping positions: stomach, back, and side.
Anyone who struggles with loud snoring or sleep apnea is advised to sleep on their side because the airway is less likely to become restricted even when the body is relaxed. Studies have shown that it can decrease the number of apneas at night and provide better quality, more restful sleep. The lateral position is also recommended for people with arthritis, acid reflux, neck and back problems. For women who are pregnant, sleeping on the left side of the body is best, especially in the second and third trimesters. This is due to enhanced blood flow to the placenta and improved kidney function, which helps decrease swelling in the motherâs legs and feet.
Get helpful tips for Finding the Best Mattress for Quality Sleep.
What Is High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is blood pressure that is higher than normal. Your blood pressure changes throughout the day based on your activities. Having blood pressure measures consistently above normal may result in a diagnosis of high blood pressure .
Your health care team can diagnose high blood pressure and make treatment decisions by reviewing your systolic and diastolic blood pressure levels and comparing them to levels found in certain guidelines.
The guidelines used to diagnose high blood pressure may differ from health care professional to health care professional:
- Some health care professionals diagnose patients with high blood pressure if their blood pressure is consistently 140/90 mm Hg or higher.2 This limit is based on a guideline released in 2003, as seen in the table below.
- Other health care professionals diagnose patients with high blood pressure if their blood pressure is consistently 130/80 mm Hg or higher.1 This limit is based on a guideline released in 2017, as seen in the table below.
|systolic: 130 mm Hg or higherdiastolic: 80 mm Hg or higher|
If you are diagnosed with high blood pressure, talk with your health care team about your blood pressure levels and how these levels affect your treatment plan.
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How Does Physical Activity Help You Sleep Better
Sleep plays a vital role in your mental and physical wellbeing. Different processes that occur during sleep help to promote healthy brain activity and maintain good overall health. For children and teenagers, sleep is also key for proper growth and development.
Sleep deficiency can interfere with these bodily processes. The term sleep deficiency refers to the inability to get enough high-quality sleep. This may occur due to sleep deprivation, or simply not getting enough sleep, or there may be other underlying reasons, such as a sleep disorder or circadian rhythm misalignment. A lack of high-quality sleep means your body has less time to recover during the night. This can also lower your bodys defenses against diseases and medical conditions.
The effects of sleep deprivation on physical health include:
- Immunohealth: During sleep, there is a peak in the number of certain T-cells, various cytokines, and other important components of your immune system. Not getting enough sleep can affect how the immune system responds to viruses and other infections. Long-term reduction in sleep can also lead to persistent low-level inflammation throughout the body, which underlies many chronic medical conditions.
- Cognitive Performance: A good nights sleep can improve your ability to concentrate, be creative, and learn new skills. People who dont get enough rest often have a hard time paying attention and are more likely to commit errors at work or in school.
Maintain A Regular Eating And Sleeping Schedule
When youre living with bipolar disorder, having structure in your daily life is vital. This includes following a healthy diet and avoiding caffeine and sugary foods that could affect your mood.
Getting enough regular sleep can also help you avoid manic or depressive episodes. In addition, it can help reduce the severity of any episodes that do occur.
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Change What You Do During The Day
- Try to spend some time outdoors every day
- Plan your physical activity for earlier in the day, not right before you go to bed
- Stay away from caffeine late in the day
- If you have trouble sleeping at night, limit daytime naps to 20 minutes or less
- If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation alcohol can keep you from sleeping well
- Dont eat a big meal close to bedtime
- If you smoke, make a plan to quit the nicotine in cigarettes can make it harder for you to sleep
Get tips for:
What About Your Mattress
A mattress that works with your sleep style and body type can help with many issues. It should be firm enough to support your back and sleep position, but soft enough to fit the shape of your body. This isnât always easy to figure out. Some stores will let you test a mattress for several weeks and change it out if it doesnât work for you.
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