What Role Does Sleep Play In Our Mood?

We’ve all woken up feeling on edge after getting a bad night of sleep.

By: rē•spin staff
What Role Does Sleep Play In Our Mood?

We know that sleep is closely connected to various aspects of our health, but how can it affect our lives on a deeper level? 

What is good sleep?

Good sleep, on the outside, looking in, may seem like vague terminology to define our own unique sleep patterns. In reality, good sleep means getting an adequate quantity as well as quality of sleep. Dr. Kristina McGuire, medical director and owner of TMJ & Sleep Therapy Centre of Cleveland, tells rē•spin that most people who suffer from common sleep issues are missing one of those categories. 

Not sure if you’re a good sleeper? Dr. McGuire says that there are a few telltale signs that you may be chronically sleep-deprived, including the ability to fall asleep after drinking caffeine, the ability to fall asleep anywhere, and the feeling of drowsiness at times where it is considered outside of a normal setting like reading, watching TV, or as a passenger in the car.

For adults, 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night is recommended. Anything less is considered sleep deprivation.

What disrupts our sleep? 

We’re sorry to say, but there are a wide variety of factors, both within and out of our control, that can disrupt our attempt at getting good sleep, including what we eat. Dr. McGuire says that pro-inflammatory foods, such as sugar, dairy, and glutens as well as alcohol and caffeine can lead to inflammation in the body, directly affecting our quality of sleep. Alcohol can keep our body temperature and heart rate elevated, disrupting our chances of good sleep. Caffeine is also a stimulant that interrupts the build-up of adenosine, a compound that makes us feel sleepy.

Dr. McGuire also suggests that we pay closer attention to our circadian rhythm to get uninterrupted sleep. We all have our own internal clocks (think, night owls and early birds) and there are factors in our lives that can disrupt our circadian clock, the biggest culprit being light.

“Since we are diurnal species, light from the sun–or in modern times, from electricity–sends the signal to our brains that it’s time to be awake, and darkness means it’s time to be asleep,” she explains. “So, when we ‘trick’ our brains into thinking it’s light, or daytime, with too much light in the evening hours, it pushes back that circadian clock, and our brains think it’s time to be awake and alert.”

To avoid this disruption, try to limit screen time at night and make sure to get adequate light during the day. Dr. McGuire suggests avoiding screens a minimum of 30 minutes before bed, but preferably 1 to 2 hours. If you’re the type of person who needs the TV on to sleep and can’t tolerate a quiet room, try opting for a sound machine instead to avoid unnecessary distractions.

How can sleep affect our health?

Sleep is the foundation that many of our daily functions rely on. Quality deep and restorative sleep can aid in our ability to learn, allow us to make sound decisions through improved focus and concentration, and can lead to more stable moods. It also aids our immune system, keeps inflammation in the body at bay, and keeps our weight, appetite, microbiome, and metabolic state in check.

“If we chronically deprive ourselves of this beautiful, nourishing sleep then we run the risk of certain physical and mental disease and increased inflammation in the body,” she explains. Some of the added risks include heart disease, diabetes, infertility, cancer, and immune deficiency.

Struggles with sleep and mood disorders are also closely linked. Sleep loss can affect your mood, while the way we feel can also drive a wedge between you and good sleep. Studies have shown that people who are sleep deprived report increases in negative moods, like anger, irritability, and sadness, and decreases in positive moods. Additionally, sleep deprivation is typically a symptom of depression and anxiety.

Without getting an adequate amount of good sleep, we fail to fall into the deep restorative phase of sleep where the “magic” happens. Deep sleep can help boost immunity, aid in hormone and endocrine function, and heal the body from challenges from the previous day. REM sleep also plays a role in enhancing learning and our memory as well as contributes to the strength of our overall emotional health. It helps facilitate the way our brain processes emotional information. As we sleep, our brain works on evaluating and remembering thoughts and memories, which can influence our mood and emotional reactivity.

How can we get more sleep? 

For anyone who struggles with sleep, you’re certainly not alone. Luckily, Dr. McGuire has plenty of tips on introducing healthy sleep habits into your routine to eliminate sleep deprivation from your life.

Because of our unique circadian clocks, creating a consistent schedule based on your internal time clock will help build a healthy sleep foundation. This routine should include a well-balanced diet integrated into your schedule as well as a regular evening routine that helps signal your body and brain to prepare for sleep. It’s also best to limit caffeine consumption, especially when it comes to caffeine before bedtime. If you consume too much too late in the day, you’re sending a message to your brain that it’s time to be active, which thwarts off sleep. 

Dr. McGuire also suggests creating an optimal sleep space and environment to set the mood for sleep. Get cozy in your comfortable pajamas and bedding and try to keep the temperature of your room at around 68 to 70F. Try out a noise machine to help fill the room with peaceful sounds and an essential oil diffuser with relaxing scents to let your body unwind. She suggests lavender as a way to naturally boost melatonin levels.

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