For centuries we thought of sleep as a passive state where we were unaware and disconnected from the world around us. But as we’ve learned more about sleep, we’ve discovered that it’s actually a vital part of our survival. Sleep expert Allan Rechtschaffen once famously said,
“If sleep does not serve an absolutely vital function, then it is the biggest mistake the evolutionary process has ever made”.
Despite this realization, we live in a society that values productivity over rest, leading to a culture of sleep deprivation that adversely affects our daily functioning and well-being.
Lack of quality sleep isn’t just about being forgetful or distracted during the day — it can be downright dangerous. Research has shown that sleep-deprived individuals are more likely to have lapses in attention and memory, which in turn can result in serious car accidents and injuries.
And that’s not all — when we don’t get enough sleep, our mood and emotional regulation can also take a hit. This means that we might struggle to deal with everyday stressors and even develop mental health issues like anxiety and depression.
In fact, there’s an intimate relationship between sleep disturbances and mental disorder conditions, so much so that sleep disturbances are listed as diagnostic criteria for certain psychiatric disorders. Insomnia, for example, is a symptom used to diagnose major depressive disorder and it can affect people in different ways. For some, insomnia might mean struggling to fall asleep in the first place. For others, it might mean waking up multiple times throughout the night and struggling to get back to sleep. Regardless of how it presents, insomnia can seriously impact our overall well-being and make it harder to function during the day.
Interestingly, when it comes to the link between sleep disturbances and mental health, we face a complex bidirectional relationship, meaning that one can worsen the other and vice versa. In other words, it’s not always clear what comes first.
Does disturbed sleep lead to depression, or does depression cause sleep problems? It’s a tricky question to answer. One thing worth noticing is that antidepressant medications, often prescribed for the treatment of patients with coincident depression and sleep complaints, may actually worsen sleep disturbances.
Are you ready to unlock the benefits of a great night’s sleep?
Let’s start with some baby steps to prioritize your rest.
First up, stick to a regular sleep schedule. Going to bed and waking up at approximately the same time every day can do wonders for your body’s internal clock, aka the circadian rhythm. And speaking of that rhythm, did you know that sleeping in a cool room can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer? That’s right — as our body temperature naturally drops at night and a cooler room can enhance the process. Finally, make sure to sleep in complete darkness (or use an eye mask!) to truly maximize the restorative powers of sleep.
By taking these steps to create a sleep-conducive environment and support your circadian rhythms, you’ll be well on your way to feeling your absolute best. So why wait? Let’s get started!
This article, along with others I’ll be releasing this week, has been created for the Brain Awareness Week 2023. My aim for this week is to spark your curiosity, share valuable knowledge, inspire, and raise awareness about factors that can impact our brain health.
Want to stay updated? Follow me on Medium! Let’s dive into the fascinating world of the brain together.
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Freeman, D., Sheaves, B., Waite, F., Harvey, A. G., & Harrison, P. J. (2020). Sleep disturbance and psychiatric disorders. The Lancet Psychiatry, 7(7), 628–637. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2215-0366(20)30136-X
Greco, V., Bergamo, D., Cuoccio, P., Konkoly, K. R., Muñoz Lombardo, K., & Lewis, P. A. (2023). Wearing an eye mask during overnight sleep improves episodic learning and alertness. Sleep, 46(3), zsac305. https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/zsac305
Lim, J., & Dinges, D. F. (2008). Sleep deprivation and vigilant attention. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1129, 305–322. https://doi.org/10.1196/annals.1417.002