The Psychology of Sleep

The Psychology of Sleep

The Psychology of Sleep Understanding the Importance of Restful Sleep for Mental Health scaled

Hello there, fellow sleepyhead! Did you know that sleep is not just about catching some Zs? There’s a whole psychology behind it that’s important for our mental health! It’s not surprising, is it? We’ve all had times when after a stormy night’s sleep we feel like a grumpy, emotional mess the next day. That’s because it is crucial for regulating our emotions and keeping our brains in tip-top shape. From forgetfulness to mood swings, not enough sleep can have a significant impact on our mental health. So let’s understand the relationship better now!

Did you know that getting enough sleep is as crucial for our mental health as it is for our physical health? It’s true! And, the exciting part is that the relationship between sleep and mental health is a two-way street. When we don’t get enough sleep, it can contribute to the development and worsening of mental health disorders. On the other hand, existing mental health conditions can also make it harder to get the sleep we need. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s talk about the stages of sleeping. That’s right, we have stages of sleep and each one has different characteristics and benefits.

Read More: The science of sleep: what goes on in your brain when you sleep?

First up, we have Stage 1: also known as the “dozing off” stage. As we drift off into dreamland, our minds remain easily awakened. Stage 2 is where our brain waves slow down and our body temperature drops slowly. This is where we spend most of our sleep time, so it’s a pretty important stage! Then we have Stages 3 and 4 also known as “deep sleep”. During this phase, our bodies perform most of their restoration and repair work, and outside noises are less likely to disturb us. Researchers categorize the first three stages as quiet sleep or non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. And last but not least, we have REM sleep – the stage where our brains are most active and we experience vivid dreams. This stage is important for memory consolidation and emotional processing.

Read More: Sleep breathing affects memory processing: Research

The Surprising Link Between Sleep and Mental Health

We know that in this fast-paced world, having a full night’s sleep seems like a dream but did you know that catching those Z’s isn’t just important for feeling rested? When we sleep, our brains are at work processing and organizing all the memories, emotions, and new information we’ve taken throughout the day. Getting enough restful sleep, especially during the REM stage, is crucial for our brains to process and evaluate emotional information properly. Without enough sleep, our brains struggle to consolidate positive emotional content, which can lead to mood swings and emotional reactivity.

It also helps us to filter out the unimportant details and focus on what matters. It’s like having a cleaning day every time we sleep, where our brains tidy up and declutter all the excess information from the day. Sleep and happiness also appear to be tightly related, and there is strong evidence that the relationship is reciprocal. Researchers found that individuals who reported more positive affect in their daily lives experienced better sleep on average. Their better sleep appeared to support their happier mood.

On the other hand, insufficient it can cause mood swings, emotional reactivity, and even the onset or exacerbation of mood disorders including depression and anxiety. Numerous negative feelings, such as anger, impatience, and a tendency to be quickly overwhelmed, can result from sleep deprivation. In addition to causing emotional instability, lack of sleep alters the brain’s chemical balance. Our hormones are among the most valuable chemicals in the brain. Also, we produce too much cortisol when we don’t get enough sleep. The adrenal glands’ production of the steroid hormone ‘cortisol’ is a key factor in our “fight or flight” response. It keeps us vigilant. Too much cortisol creates a constant state of stress, making the body unable to relax. It doesn’t end here.

Studies have shown that several mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder, share the common trait of sleep disruptions. Even the very onset of many problems may be influenced by poor sleep. Sleep deprivation has also been strongly associated with increased emotional reactivity because it disrupts the connection between the prefrontal cortex, which controls impulse control and decision-making, and the amygdala, which processes emotions. Patients with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) frequently experience sleep issues, but there are other sleep disorders as well:

  • Sleep apnea: Another sleep-related factor that has been associated with mental health is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). It’s a disorder that results in pauses in breathing while you sleep and a drop in your body’s oxygen levels, which disrupts and fragments your sleep.
  • Restless leg syndrome: A neurological condition that causes the legs (occasionally arms) to feel unpleasant and causes an overwhelming impulse to move them, frequently disturbing sleep.
  • Insomnia: A sleep disorder marked by issues getting to sleep, remaining asleep, or waking up too early and having trouble falling back asleep.

Unfortunately, sleep issues and poor mental health can reinforce one another, leading to a vicious cycle of distress that may need to be broken with expert assistance.

Don’t Worry, Here’s How To Sleep Like A Pro!

Now that we know how important a full night’s sleep is, time to understand how it can be made practical. Let’s start with sleep hygiene. It refers to the routines and procedures that encourage sound sleep. Consider it to be your bedtime ritual, the things you do every night to relax and get ready for bed. Good sleep habits can make it easier for you to go to sleep, stay asleep, and wake up feeling rested and energised.

Read More:15 proven Tips for Better Sleep Hygiene

Other than that, wake up and go to bed at the same times every day, including weekends. This enhances the quality of your sleep and helps to adjust your body’s natural schedule. Find things that help you relax and unwind before night, whether it’s reading a book, taking a warm bath, or using relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation. Maintain a cold, quiet, and dark bedroom. Purchase soft blankets and pillows, and think about using earplugs to drown out any distracting noises. Avoid using your phone, tablet, or computer while in bed and switch off screens at least one hour before bed. Avoid consuming large meals, coffee, and alcohol in the hours before bed. Instead, opt for light snacks and soothing herbal tea. That’s it, happy sleeping!

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