Sleep deprivation: Learn how your sleep and moods could be linked

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The challenges of sleep deprivation

Sleep is critical to the proper functioning of your brain, and a lack of it interferes with mood and concentration. Charmaine West explains. 

We have all felt the effects of a poor night’s sleep: most people will feel grumpy, stressed or irritable, and they may also have trouble concentrating the next day which worsens if the poor sleep continues. This is because your sleep and your mood are closely linked, and it cuts both ways – while it is easy to see the effects of a bad night’s sleep on your mood, did you know that your mood also affects your sleep?  

The mood-sleep loop  

Sleep issues are very common, with a recent report to the Sleep Health Foundation finding that over half of all Australian adults experience at least one symptom of poor sleep. Getting enough sleep, and ensuring that it is good quality sleep, is essential for health and wellbeing. Your body repairs itself while you sleep, restoring and supporting brain function and overall physical health. A study published in JMIR Mental Health found a strong link between poor quality sleep and decreased wellbeing. 

While it is easy to see the effects of a bad night’s sleep on your mood, did you know that your mood also affects your sleep?

Studies show that people who experience sleeplessness report increases in negative mood balance (e.g. anger, frustration, irritability, poor motivation) and decreases in positive moods. For example, a study conducted at Harvard Medical School that limited the sleep duration of participants to only 4.5 hours a night for one week found that they felt significantly more stressed, angry, sad and mentally exhausted. When the group returned to their normal sleep pattern, they reported an improvement in mood.  

While it is easy to see how poor sleep can affect your mood, it has only recently been found that your mood also impacts on your sleep. Feelings of stress and overwhelm keep the body and mind stimulated, awake and alert. You may find it difficult to turn your brain off; you may also experience an increase in heart rate and altered breathing patterns – all symptoms that make it hard to get off to sleep and to enjoy long and deep sleep. People experiencing chronic or ongoing stress often have sleep problems. 

Taking back control

If you have trouble getting enough good quality sleep, here’s how to get back on track.  

Improve sleep hygiene  

Sleep hygiene is the set of habits that you have around your sleep. Bad sleep habits often play a part in poor sleep. For example:

Routine: Try getting up at the same time each morning and going to bed around the same time every night. 

Environment: Make sure your bedroom is comfortable. Consider the comfort of your mattress and pillows, and ensure the room is the right temperature and dark enough. 

Relax: Avoid mentally stimulating activities too close to bedtime; try activities like reading or having a warm bath instead. 

Get your fuel right

  • Good fats: Include omega-3 fats in your diet from fish, and other good fats from  avocados and nuts. 
  • Magnesium-rich foods: Include plenty of leafy green vegetables, seeds and whole grains. Avoid processed foods, caffeine and alcohol: In particular, avoid caffeine, alcohol and cigarettes too close to bedtime – caffeine and nicotine are stimulants and can make it difficult to fall asleep. Caffeine’s effects can also last for up to 10 hours after you consume it, especially in older people, whose metabolism is slower. Although alcohol is a sedative, it can disrupt sleep later, when it wears off. 
  • Calming drinks: Have a warm, milky drink before bed. Milk contains tryptophan, which is a sleep-enhancing amino acid. 
  • Support your mood Meditation: Regular practice can reduce feelings of stress and overwhelm. Not sure where to start? Sit quietly and focus on your breathing, or try a meditation app on your phone. 
  • Exercise: Regular exercise is good for both physical and mental health, and it also releases mood-enhancing endorphins. Yoga is particularly good for helping to reduce stress, and feelings of overwhelm. Important! Always speak to a health professional when using herbal medications. Health professional-only brands, such as Flordis, offer high quality products and education for practitioners sothat they can advise on the best product for you. 

 Herbs that help  

According to the American Medical Council, St John’s wort is used traditionally to support the nervous system, relieve symptoms of stress, calm the mind and reduce irritability. Lemon balm can help reduce feelings of stress and overwhelm and increase calmness. 

Here are 10 effective strategies to help you say good night to sleep problems.

Charmaine West is a naturopath with over 15 years’ experience who specialises in helping stressed, tired women find their way back to balance.  

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The challenges of sleep deprivation
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