Do you know the saying “the morning is wiser than the evening”? This expression, originating from the Russian fairytale Vasilisa the Beautiful, is used to caution someone to better sleep with the initial reaction and wait for a response. In a lot of ways, it has to do with the power of sleep on mental health, because it’s more than getting rest after a tiring day.
The relationship between quality of sleep and mental well-being is complex, but one that you can improve with some practice and proper care of yourself. We are going to explore this, as well as other ways sleep affects our mind, emotions, and psychological health.
What is sleep?
Sleep is a natural condition in the body and mind when certain systems slow their activities, regenerate, eliminate toxins, and repair. Adult humans need 7–9 hours of sleep according to the scientific community, although a small percentage of people need only 6. The reason why we sleep is subjected to several theories, where all offer valid explanations and each is true to some extent.
Sleep is made of cycles and each one has four stages — three non-rapid eye movements or NREM and one rapid eye movement or REM stage. During one night, you can have many cycles that can last from 90 to 120 minutes. The REM stage is when our brain processes memories and emotions, helping us feel rested and in good mental shape.
The difficult relationship between stress and sleep
High levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, can lead to insomnia and difficulty falling asleep. In turn, you will sleep less and poorly, so you will feel even more stressed when you wake up than you did before going to bed.
To understand why cortisol is the enemy of sleep, you need to know more about its adversary — melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone released at night, responsible for the sleep-wake cycle. When melatonin is low and cortisol high we feel awake and our sleep patterns are affected.
But still, sleep is a great stress reducer. Trying to have quality shuteye when stressed out and managing stress when underslept sounds horrendous. However, if you keep your stress under control with talk therapy, physical activity, or other means, you can achieve a healthy balance between cortisol and melatonin.
Sleep and depression
According to a 2011 study review, the researchers found that people who have insomnia but not depression, have higher chances of developing this mental condition in time. While sleep disorders, like insomnia, can be signs of depression, these findings showed that it may be the other way around as well. However, insomnia shouldn’t be left untreated since it can cause other physiological issues and negatively affect cognitive abilities.
Using cognitive–behavioral therapy to treat insomnia can reduce depression and enhance overall well-being. Feeling rested, energized, and clear headed after the recommended amount of sleep can give you the strength to address your depression and improve your mental health.
Other mental health issues and sleep
Anxiety is characterized by feelings of worry and fear that turn into a state when you’re constantly overthinking and feel overstimulated. While it can cause sleep issues, it can also be heightened by the inability to fall asleep and insomnia. Bipolar disorder, PTSD, ADHD, and other mental health conditions are also followed by sleep deprivation.
Identifying the mental issue can make a huge difference to recovery and having normal sleep patterns. Medication, therapy, healthy habits, and hobbies can help a person to take control of their mental health and lead a normal life.
Sleep can make you happy
We mentioned the connection between depression and sleep or lack of it. So, it’s only fitting to talk about how sleep and happiness go hand in hand. Mental health is a taboo topic in many societies and a lot of people are afraid to get the right help. This is changing by the day, however, thanks to social media and Gen Z being open about their feelings and struggles online.
Working on accepting your body, diversity, and differences, you will be more at peace with your inner self. You will find a way to love yourself and others for who they are, look for composed and respectful solutions at work and in private life. All this is not possible if you sleep for a few hours and wake up tired, annoyed, and angry for not having more time to stay in bed. Loving yourself means taking good care of your health, and having quality sleep falls under that category.
When hormones go crazy
There are lots of reasons for hormones in your body to stop functioning properly, one of them being lack of sleep. Poor sleep leads to a chemical imbalance in the brain, affecting our mood and leading to emotional instability. When we don’t get enough sleep, our endocrine system, which regulates hormones, “malfunctions” and upsets the hormonal balance.
For example, the body needs serotonin to create melatonin, a sleep hormone. If we don’t sleep well, we get more stressed out and our cortisol levels suppress serotonin, a happiness hormone, making us anxious and depressed. Simply put, the better you sleep the happier you will feel.
Tuning your circadian rhythm
Circadian rhythm is a biological process better explained with analogy to a clock. To show the right time, you need to wind it regularly and respect the schedule it represents. You should wake up in the morning and go to sleep in the evening because our circadian rhythm depends on the light and dark cycle of days.
Mental issues can be one of the things disrupting your circadian rhythm and having you stay awake at night and sleep through the day. It can also lead to insomnia, depression, loss of motivation, and lack of enthusiasm. You can fix this by adopting daily routines that will help you get back into the normal circadian rhythm, like waking up and going to bed at the same time.
Additionally, pull the drapes over your windows to prevent light from coming in and use a sleeping mask. Leave your phone out of the bedroom or as far away as possible from your bed, and instead read a book. Soothing sounds from a sleep machine may also help, but if you need silence, use earplugs and keep the windows closed to shut off traffic.
Ambient and quality of sleep
It’s not enough just to go to bed early and have recommended hours of sleep. You also need to make sure that your environment is comfortable and enables you to fall asleep easily. From silk pillowcase, soft linens, and appropriate mattresses to sound machines and dark rooms, these are all factors that can help you sleep better.
Furthermore, you need to calm yourself and try not to dwell on negative thoughts when you go to bed. Meditation, breathing techniques, and herbal medications can soothe you enough to fall asleep, but it’s not something that happens immediately and will require patience. As we mentioned, good night’s sleep and mental health are interconnected, so to improve the one you need to take care of the other, too.
Can you make up for lost sleep?
Unfortunately, the answer is no. You can recover from the loss of sleep if you have more hours of shuteye the next day, but this won’t work if you do it all the time. For example, it will take four days to compensate for just one hour of lost sleep. But if sacrificing sleep turns into a habit, it can have serious consequences for your well-being.
Sleep deprivation can lead to many health conditions, like heart attack, diabetes, and stroke. Mentally, it can have a similarly dangerous effect, causing hallucinations, agitation, and even brain damage. Schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease are also common in people with chronic sleep deprivation.
Things you can do to sleep better
Besides meditating, a soothing environment, and cognitive–behavioral therapy, you can do other things that will help you sleep. For example, start living more healthily by quitting bad habits, like smoking and drinking alcohol.
Nicotine creates a dependency that is considered similar to addiction experienced by heroin addicts. When you sleep for the required 7–9 hours, your body goes into withdrawal and starts craving a cigarette. In turn, you can develop insomnia, have nightmares, and often wake up at night to smoke.
Coffee and tea are other potential sleep disruptors if you have them later in the afternoon and the evening. Both beverages contain caffeine, a substance that blocks natural processes in the brain, making us tired and sleepy. The good news is that you don’t have to stop having coffee, but only have it in the morning and early afternoon, or switch to decaf varieties.
The bottom line
We need sleep like we need air, food, and water. The body and mind need time off from keeping us up and running. The power of sleep on mental health and happiness reflects in the responsibility we have to ourselves — in self-care, self-love, and willingness to change for the better.
Nina Simons is a lifestyle blogger, yoga aficionado and travel enthusiast with a distinctive taste for home decor. She’s passionate about learning new things and sharing meaningful ideas. In her free time, she loves to design clothes and furniture. If you wanna see what she’s up to you can find her on Twitter.
Featured image courtesy of Andrea Piacquadio.