Moody Much? The Effects of Sleep on Our Moods
By Lissa Coffey
Ever have one of those days? You know the ones – when you are out of sorts and easily irritated, when nothing seems to be working and everything takes more effort? We’ve all been there. And though we tend to blame the traffic, or our co-workers, or the weather, chances are the real culprit that we haven’t gotten enough sleep.
Sleep research shows that there is a definite correlation between being sleep deprived, and feeling angry, hostile, and irritable. In addition, a chronic lack of sleep is associated with depression and anxiety.
When it comes to emotions, sleep deprivation seems to be the cause of increased emotional reactivity. People who experience sleep loss are much more likely to have a negative reaction when things don’t go well for them. Why is this? It’s got to do with the brain and the part of the brain known as the amygdala. The amygdala is responsible for processing negative emotion. When we don’t get enough sleep there’s a disconnect between the amygdala and the area in the brain that regulates its functions. So, sleep loss affects us in two ways: we are more likely to experience negative emotions (or worse than usual negative moods), and we also have less of an ability to regulate those moods.
A lack of sleep also affects our positive moods – making them less positive. Without adequate sleep we feel less happy, less friendly, and less compassionate. Even when something great happens for us, for example we win an award, we don’t experience it as positively as we would have if we had gotten enough sleep. Even losing just one hour of sleep could cause us to feel nervous, hopeless, or restless.
The good news is that a good night’s sleep can restore these brain connections so that the next day we can do better, and be better, both socially and emotionally. And of course, it follows that adequate, quality sleep promotes positive moods and a sense of well-being.
By understanding that this is the case, we can avoid taking on big challenges or confrontations on those days when we haven’t had enough sleep the night before, thereby avoiding possible conflicts and disappointments. We can also wait until days we’ve slept well the night before to celebrate our accomplishments, so that we can enjoy the moment that much more. This understanding also helps us to be more patient with our friends, neighbors and co-workers, and maybe not take it too personally when they snap at us for seemingly no reason.
If sleep deprivation continues, emotional problems can become exacerbated. The risk for developing emotional disorders such as depression and anxiety increases. Lack of sleep over time can impair memory, cause us to exercise less and eat less healthfully. We also tend to be less likely to participate in social or leisure activities when we suffer from sleepiness. Chronic lack of sleep affects our relationships, and our work life. In terms of emotions, those few bad days of bad moods can end up turning into weeks as we fall into the habitual lack of sleep. A 1997 study found that insomnia, defined as habitual sleeplessness, or the inability to sleep, increases the risk of a person developing symptoms of depression by more than tenfold.
If you’ve been sleeping poorly or feeling depressed for four weeks or more then it is important to address the problem. Experts say that one of the first signs of depression is difficulty with sleep. Lack of sleep and depression often go hand in hand, and it can be difficult to determine which came first. Many who don’t sleep enough are depressed, and many who are depressed don’t sleep well. The same holds true for anxiety. Anxiety makes it difficult to fall asleep. It also makes it difficult to fall back to sleep when we wake up in the middle of the night. Stress affects us in the same way. It makes the body alert and aroused, in the “fight or flight” mode, so that we can’t relax enough to get to sleep. Depression and anxiety cause us to wake up more often in the night, which means we miss out on the vital deep sleep that the mind and body needs to function optimally.
Another sleep issue that comes with depression is “hypersomnia” or excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS). Hypersomnia is when you sleep too much and have trouble staying awake. People with hypersomnia feel abnormally sleepy even when they’ve gotten adequate sleep. As many as 40% of adults with depression struggle with this.
Treating a sleep issue often reduces the symptoms of depression and anxiety. When we sleep well, we feel good. Good sleep helps us to be happier by nurturing our mental and emotional resilience. Sleep also contributes to a robust immune system which helps the body to stay healthy.
As you can see, mental health and sleep are intricately connected in many ways. Help yourself to maintain emotional health by following the guidelines that the Better Sleep Council recommends for a good night’s sleep including:
– Making your bedroom a sleep sanctuary – keep electronics out, keep the room dark and cool, and invest in a comfortable supportive mattress
– Getting some exercise and sunshine daily
– Getting to bed by 10 pm, and avoiding screen time an hour before bed.
There are many more great sleep tips and articles on the BetterSleep.org website.
If you are concerned that you might be experiencing depression, or if you have been feeling hopeless and constantly tired for more than four weeks, reach out to a mental health professional. Not sleeping enough, or not getting enough quality sleep, despite following sleep recommendations, or feeling sleepy no matter how much sleep you are getting, could be symptoms of depression or anxiety. It is important to see a professional, especially if you are having suicidal thoughts. You can also call one of these hotlines:
Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
MentalHelp hotline: 1-888-993-3112