Effects of Lack of Sleep on Mental Health and How to Get Better Sleep

Effects of lack of sleep on the brain, mental health

 

Are you struggling to get enough sleep at night? If so, your mental health could be suffering because of it. The effects of lack of sleep on mental health are significant. Keep reading to learn how lack of sleep affects mood, memory, and more. Plus, find tips for getting better sleep nightly to feel better physically, mentally, and emotionally.  

Sleep and Your Mental Health: FAQs

Your physical and mental health are connected. So, a physical problem (not getting enough sleep) will impact your mental health. By understanding the impact, you can make habit and lifestyle changes to improve both.  

How Does Lack of Sleep Affect Your Mental Health?

If you’re not getting enough sleep, you may notice it in a few different ways. Beyond yawning more often or having heavy eyes, the effects of lack of sleep on the brain often result in these experiences:

  1. You Might Feel More Negative: When you’re running on empty, everything can feel like a big deal. Small annoyances can become major frustrations, and you might find your joy taking a nosedive.
  2. Depression Could Creep In: Feeling low more often than not? Struggling to get out of bed? These could be signs of depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), conditions that can both cause and be worsened by lack of sleep.
  3. Mental Distress Goes Up: You know that frazzled, frayed-at-the-edges feeling? It’s likely to happen more often if you’re not getting enough ZZZs.
  4. Mood Swings Become the Norm: One moment you’re up, the next you’re down. Lack of sleep can make your mood as unpredictable as a roller coaster.
  5. Anxiety Levels Can Soar: If you’re feeling jittery or on edge more than usual, your lack of sleep could be feeding your anxiety.
  6. Your Brain Gets Foggy: Forgetfulness, difficulty focusing, and decision-making woes are some of the effects of lack of sleep on the brain. Poor sleep can leave your brain feeling like it’s wrapped in cotton wool. 

Think it’s just adults who suffer these effects? Think again. Lack of sleep can affect the mental health of children and teenagers, too, impacting their mood, behavior, and ability to think clearly.

How Much Sleep Is Needed for Mental Health?

For optimal mental health, adults generally need between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. This finding is supported by multiple studies and health organizations. For example, the National Sleep Foundation and Mayo Clinic recommend at least seven hours of sleep for most adults. Similarly, research highlighted by Inverse states that seven hours of sleep per night appeared to be the sweet spot, with more or less sleep potentially leading to fewer cognitive benefits. 

However, it’s important to remember that everyone is different. Your age, lifestyle, and health can all play a part in how much shut-eye you need. Kids and teens? They usually need more sleep than adults. But everyone needs at least seven hours to minimize the effects of lack of sleep on mental health.

What Are the Symptoms of Lack of Sleep and Stress?

Lack of sleep and stress can often be interconnected. Here are some ways in which poor sleep can contribute to or enhance stress:

  • Lack of sleep can lead to difficulties in concentration, decision-making, and memory, which can increase stress, particularly in work or school environments.
  • Sleep deprivation often causes irritability and mood swings, which can heighten feelings of stress.
  • When you’re tired, your ability to cope with minor annoyances or challenges can decrease, making everything seem more stressful than it really is.
  • Lack of sleep can increase feelings of worry and anxiety, which can contribute to overall stress levels.
  • Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to various health problems, like a weakened immune system or an increased risk of chronic diseases, which can cause stress.
  • Feeling constantly tired can make daily tasks feel overwhelming, adding to stress levels.
  • Lack of sleep can disrupt the hormones that regulate hunger and satiety, leading to weight gain, which can be a source of stress for many people.
  • Sleep-deprived individuals may find it harder to interact socially, which can lead to feelings of isolation and increased stress.

Is Sleeping a Form of Escapism?

In certain circumstances, sleep can indeed be considered a form of escapism. There are people who use sleep as a way to get away from their feelings or tricky situations in life. It’s like hitting the pause button on whatever’s going on, giving them a temporary break from reality. 

Some research suggests that sleep could act as an alternative to more harmful coping mechanisms because it provides a temporary escape from problems. However, while a good night’s rest is super important for our health, using sleep to consistently dodge real-life issues isn’t the healthiest approach. It’s usually better to face these challenges head-on and seek help when needed. 

5 Tips for Getting Better Sleep at Night

The effects of lack of sleep over time can be significant — so much so that you could end up needing to see a doctor if things don’t get better. But before it gets to that point, here are five ways to get better sleep at night. 

1. Establish a Consistent Sleep Schedule

Creating and sticking to a consistent sleep schedule can help regulate your body’s internal clock, also known as the circadian rhythm. This means going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends. Over time, this can make it easier for you to fall asleep and wake up. For instance, if you aim to sleep at 10 p.m. and wake up at 6 a.m., try to maintain these times consistently.

2. Create a Nighttime Routine

Having a relaxing nighttime routine can signal your body that it’s time to wind down and get ready for sleep. This routine may include activities like reading a book, taking a warm bath, meditating, or listening to calming music. For example, you could start your routine an hour before bed by turning off all electronic devices, taking a warm bath with lavender oil (known for its relaxing properties), reading a few chapters of a book, and finally turning off the lights.

3. Make Your Sleeping Environment Comfortable

Your bedroom should be a haven for sleep. This means ensuring it is dark, quiet, and cool. Consider using earplugs or a white noise machine if you live in a noisy environment. Blackout curtains or eye masks can be useful in blocking out light. Also, make sure you have a supportive mattress and comfortable pillows. If possible, use your bedroom only for sleep and intimacy to strengthen the mental association between your bedroom and sleep.

4. Limit Naps During the Day

While napping isn’t necessarily bad, long or irregular napping during the day can disrupt your sleep. If you need to nap, try to limit it to about 20-30 minutes and make it during the early afternoon. This way, it’s less likely to interfere with your nighttime sleep.

5. Be Mindful of What You Eat and Drink

What you consume can greatly affect your sleep. Try to limit caffeine and nicotine, especially in the hours leading up to bedtime, as they can interfere with your ability to fall asleep. Also, avoid eating large meals close to bedtime, as this can cause discomfort and indigestion. Instead, opt for a light snack if you’re hungry. A warm glass of milk or a cup of herbal tea can be soothing and help prepare your body for sleep.

Effects of Lack of Sleep on the Brain and Mental Health: Final Thoughts

It’s no secret that the effects of lack of sleep on mental health can be serious if not addressed promptly. The brain, being the control center of our body, requires a substantial amount of rest to function optimally. Without sufficient sleep, it struggles to process information, make decisions, and even regulate emotions effectively. This can lead to mood swings, anxiety, depression, and, in severe cases, cognitive disorders. It’s crucial to understand that sleep isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity for our brain and overall mental health. So, let’s prioritize getting those precious hours of shut-eye each night. Remember, a well-rested brain is a healthier, happier brain!