You may have heard that a lack of sleep can affect you physically, having an impact on your weight, your immune system and even aches and pains, but did you know that sleep deprivation can have an even bigger effect on your mental well-being?
Studies have shown that there is a direct relationship between sleep and your mood – but it’s more than waking up feeling grumpy after tossing and turning all night. A lack of sleep, such as prolonged periods of insomnia, can lead to a lack of concentration and impair our ability to think clearly, as well as influence our outlook on life, energy levels, motivation and emotions.
Despite these warnings however, it is clear that people across the UK are not getting a good night’s rest. In 2016, research by the Royal Society for Public Health found that the average Briton is losing almost an hour of sleep per night – that’s a whole night’s sleep over the course of one week!
The report, titled ‘Waking up to the health benefits of sleep’, highlights the need for individuals to get more good quality sleep to protect our health and well-being, and calls on schools, employers and GPs to discuss sleep as part of complex health issues.
The most common mental health issues linked to sleep deprivation are depression and anxiety disorders. It therefore may not surprise you to hear that people with insomnia are 10 times as likely to have clinical depression and 17 times as likely to have clinical anxiety than those who get an average of 7-9 hours per night.
So, why does this happen? What is the impact of sleep deprivation on our brains?
First of all, a lack of sleep will effectively cause the memory inbox of the brain to shut down. Sleep affects the formation of myelin, which is vital to allowing the brain’s cells to grow and repair ready to operate the next day. So, when the brain is deprived, we are unable to properly commit new experiences to memory.
Studies have shown that sleep is also important to maintaining the health of our brain’s neurons. A good night’s sleep allows our neurons to independently rest and repair themselves, but if this happens while we’re awake, it is much less efficient and affects our cognitive performance such as our ability to reason, make decisions and react quickly. Moderate sleep deprivation has even been compared to the impairments of alcohol intoxication.
Sleep deprivation also leads to an increased development of beta-amyloid, a damaging protein in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
There are numerous ways to avoid or combat sleep deprivation, such as establishing your natural wake-sleep cycle (or circadian rhythm), exercising regularly, limiting caffeine and nicotine and taking time out to wind down at the end of the day. However, for some, sleep deprivation can be a more serious issue that requires medical intervention. Booking an appointment with your GP is the first step to diagnosing a sleep disorder such as insomnia or sleep apnoea.
Whatever your course of action, it’s time to take sleep seriously, particularly when it comes to your mental health.