What Role Does Sleep Play In Our Mood?
We’ve all woken up feeling on edge after getting a bad night of sleep.
We know that sleep is closely connected to various aspects of our health, but how can it affect our lives on a deeper level? On the outside, looking in, a good night’s rest may seem like vague terminology to define our unique sleep patterns. But, in reality, it means getting an adequate quantity and quality of sleep. Dr. Kristina Wolf, medical director and owner of TMJ & Sleep Therapy Centre of Cleveland, tells rē•spin that most people who suffer from common slumber issues are missing one of those categories.
Not sure if you’re a good sleeper? Dr. Wolf says that there are a few telltale signs that you may be chronically sleep-deprived, including the ability to fall asleep after drinking caffeine and the ability to fall asleep anywhere. There is also 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 deprivation.
What disrupts our sleep?
We’re sorry to say, but a wide variety of factors, both within and out of our control, can disrupt our attempt at our slumber, including what we eat. Dr. Wolf shares that pro-inflammatory foods, such as sugar, dairy, and glutens, as well as alcohol and caffeine, can lead to inflammation in the body. This can directly affect the quality of our rest. 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 tired.
Dr. Wolf also suggests that we pay closer attention to our circadian rhythm to get an uninterrupted night’s rest. 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 ensure adequate light during the day. Dr. Wolf suggests avoiding screens a minimum of 30 minutes before bed, preferably 1 to 2 hours. If you need the TV on to sleep and can’t tolerate a quiet room, try opting for a sound machine instead. Then you can 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 rest 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 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. Wolf 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 foundation for your night. 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 rest. 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 sleep.
Dr. Wolf also suggests creating an optimal rest space and environment to set the mood. 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 boost melatonin levels naturally.