Sleep and Mental health

Shakespeare described sleep and insomnia over 4 centuries ago, in Henry IV:

“O sleep! O gentle sleep!
Nature’s soft nurse, how have I frighted thee,
That thou no more wilt weigh my eyelids down
And steep my senses in forgetfulness?”

But we, i.e., the millenials belong to a generation that strongly endorses the notion that sleep is a waste of otherwise precious time. Why sleep, when you could be responding to e-mails/chats, finishing up an assignment, binge-watching the latest release on Netflix, or simply staring at the ceiling, right?

Wrong! Because the truth is, sleep issues contribute greatly to your overall well-being and also to being more successful at anything you set out to do. Shakespeares’ description of sleep as nature’s soft nurse is thus, way more accurate than we realise.

When we sleep, our mind rests and recharges. So essentially, it is during this time that memories, emotions, and any new information that we’ve gathered during the day is filed away and stored in our minds to be retrieved as required. Sleep time is the time blocked by our mind for mental and emotional processing. Think of it like this – you know how when there’s some quiet time at work, you just seem to get more work done? The brain works the same way; when we’re asleep, we don’t have other external stimuli to respond to, and so, that’s when the brain is most productive.

You’ve probably noticed, that when you don’t get enough sleep, you can be more sensitive, easily irritated, or impulsive? Road Rage? “I hate my life!” “Why can’t I remember her name?” Ring any bells? We’ll tell you why!

There are two areas in the brain, the Amygdala – this area controls emotional responses; and the Prefrontal Cortex, which controls impulses. For these two to communicate with each other and do their job effectively, sleep is important – they use the downtime from sleep to correctly process our emotions and impulses. And if we don’t, they’ll just go into overdrive, and make us more vulnerable to mood swings, erratic behaviour, and increased emotional reactivity.

And this isn’t all – lack of sleep also causes what is known as hormone disruption, and affects our immune system. Remember the super popular phrase “Chemical Locha” from Munna Bhai? That’s exactly what this is! We won’t confuse you with a lot of scientific or medical jargon, but Hormones are basically the messengers for the brain; that is, in effect, they carry messages to various areas of our body via the bloodstream. Hormones influence our appetite, weight, mood, immunity, growth, healing – so roughly translated,  hormones enable us to function properly. And much of this critical process is carried out at night, when we sleep. And if we don’t sleep, it can’t deliver the proper information, therefore, causing a lot of ‘chemical locha’.

Within these hormones, Cortisol, popularly known as the stress hormone, has one of the worst effects on our mental health. When we don’t get enough sleep, too much cortisol is produced. This puts our body in a constant state of stress, unable to relax. And that’s why people under a lot of stress deal with insomnia – because the excessive amount of cortisol produced keeps them up late!

While it is known that stress and lack of sleep, have a number of detrimental effects on the body, such as impaired cognitive function, or unexplained weight gain, sleep deprivation and stress also contribute to mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and depressive disorders.

Those who don’t sleep enough are more likely to develop mental health issues such as:

  • feel anxious, depressed or suicidal
  • have psychotic episodes – poor sleep can trigger mania, psychosis or paranoia, or make existing symptoms worse
  • feel lonely or isolated – for example, if you don’t have the energy to see people or they don’t seem to understand
  • struggle to concentrate, or make plans or simple everyday decisions
  • feel irritable or not have the energy to do things
  • have problems with day to day life – for example, at work or with family and friends
  • be more affected by other health problems

The human mind is super complex, and everything you read here doesn’t even scratch the surface of the deep and intimate relationship between sleep and mental health. But let’s always remember, they have a reciprocal relationship. One affects the other, and vice versa! Mental health awareness is an important aspect of overall well-being.

And if you’re having trouble getting the right amount zzzs, check out some of other blogs which have tips on how you can sleep better. Do check out some of our Best Mattresses online and get the power of better sleep. So keep in mind – better sleep = better you.

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