If you have ever tossed and turned all night long or only had a few hours of sleep, you know how grumpy, short tempered, vulnerable to stress, and irritable this can make you feel. After a good night’s sleep, your mood improves and your ability to handle stress increases dramatically.
A study conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania showed that subjects who slept for only four and a half hours each night for one week experienced severe mental exhaustion, anger, sadness, and stress. Once participants resumed seven to nine hours of sleep per night, moods improved dramatically.
Sleeplessness not only affects mood, but a person’s mood also affects his/her ability to get a good night’s sleep. This can become a vicious cycle. Anxiety coupled with cyclical thinking can make it difficult to fall asleep. Furthermore, any type of stress increases wakefulness and alertness. That said, individuals under constant stress are at an increased risk of developing a sleep disorder.
The Sleep Cycle
Every hour and a half a person cycles through two different types of sleep – Quiet Sleep and REM sleep.
During quiet sleep, the body transitions into a deep sleep. Muscles relax, respiration and heart rate slow, and the body temperature drops. Quiet sleep allows for important physiological changes such as cellular repair and the production of hormones.
Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep allows a person to dream. Respiration levels and heart rate increase, while body temperature and blood pressure rise to levels experienced when awake. During REM sleep, the brain consolidates memories, enhances learning, and improves emotional health.
Sleep disruption affects the body’s stress hormone levels and neurotransmitter production and activation. When not getting enough sleep, the ability to think clearly and respond accurately to stimulation is impaired.
Psychological Effects of Sleep Disorders
There are more than seventy different types of sleep disorders. The most common sleep disorders include insomnia, sleep apnea, sleep paralysis, and sleepwalking. Each of these sleep disorders causes various psychiatric issues.
- ADHD – Sleep disorders affect between one quarter and one half of all children suffering from ADHD. Individuals suffering from ADHD can have difficulty falling asleep, experience restless sleep, and shorter sleep duration. Finally, ADHD can cause periodic limb movement disorder or restless legs syndrome.
- Anxiety Disorders – Sleep disorders affect approximately half of individuals suffering from PTSD, panic disorder, phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder, and other anxiety disorders. Insomnia and sleep disruptions can worsen symptoms and contribute to the frequency and intensity of negative memories.
- Bipolar Depression – It is estimated that approximately 84 percent of bipolar depression sufferers will experience insomnia during the manic phase of their disorder. During the severe depression phase of bipolar depression, individuals experience hypersomnia (excess sleep).
- Depression – Between 65 and 90 percent of adults suffering from major depression also suffer from a sleep problem like insomnia or sleep apnea. Furthermore, those suffering from a sleep disorder are four times more likely to develop clinical depression.
Lifestyle Changes to Help Improve Mental Health and Sleep
There are several actions a person can take to improve sleep and mental health. The impact of these lifestyle modifications will vary from person to person; however, each of the suggestions has the potential to help a person get to sleep faster, remain asleep longer and feel more rested upon waking up.
- Avoid Stimulants – While most people know that caffeine can disrupt sleep; many are surprised to learn that alcohol and nicotine can disrupt sleep patterns as well. Avoid these substances at least 3 hours before bedtime.
- Physical Activity – Regular exercise helps a person falls asleep more quickly and remain asleep longer. Exercising can also promote a sense of alertness. Avoid any extreme physical activity after 6 pm to avoid over-stimulation before bedtime.
- Sleep Hygiene – Sleep hygiene practices involved dimming lights, turning off electronics, and participating in quiet activities an hour or two before bedtime. Going to bed at the same time each night and getting up at the same time each morning will help reset your circadian rhythm. Also light blocking curtains or blinds and white noise machines to create a soothing environment in the bedroom.
- Stress Reduction Techniques – Stress reduction techniques like journaling, mediation, deep breathing exercise can counteract the effects of anxiety on the body and mind. At the end of the day, take a few minutes to practice these relaxation techniques to help calm the mind and prepare your body for sleep.
Our Sleep Specialists Can Help
Integrative medicine seeks to treat the body, mind, and spirit. Integrative medicine includes preventative care to improve all aspects of your life. Our team of integrative sleep specialists will work with you to create a customized treatment plan to counteract the effects of sleep disorders on your body and mental health. They provide proven therapies and techniques to help you get a full night’s sleep.
by Suzanne Tershak Tither, FNP-BC (our Functional Nurse Practitioner)