Sleep and Mental Health: How Late Nights Affect Your Brain

We all know how it feels to miss a night’s sleep. Tired, groggy, and irritable, all we want is to be to be left alone. Nothing a good night’s rest can’t fix right?

Well yes, if it’s just one night’s missed sleep but what if it’s every night? An increasing amount of us aren’t getting sufficient sleep and more and more of us are suffering from sleep disorders.

What few of us realize is the long term impact that sleeping badly on a regular basis have on our mental health.

Medical science has long known the link between poor sleep and poor mental health. While the exact mechanisms at play are still being examined.

Below we take a look at how poor sleep affects the brain and the impact this can have on our lasting mental health…

 

Mood Swings

We all know that we are moody when we haven’t slept well. But why should this be the case? Well, say hello to the amygdala.

The amygdala is an almond-shaped collection of nuclei buried deep in your brain’s medial temporal lobe. While modest in size the amygdala plays a big role in how we feel, act and respond to stimuli. It’s been referred to as the emotional control centre of our brain.

Studies have shown us that how the amygdala responds to the world around us can be very different depending on how well we’ve slept. One piece of research conducted at Tel Aviv

University showed that sleep deprivation caused a disruption in communication between the amygdala and the medial prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that is tasked with regulating it.

This disruption between the two appears to result in the amygdala becoming overactive to negative stimuli.

As part of the same study two groups of participants were shown a series of negative images. One group was well rested, the other sleep-deprived. fMRI brain scans showed that the amygdala belonging to the sleep-deprived participants was 60% more reactive to the images.

In layman’s terms, when we are tired our amygdala frankly goes a little crazy, this result in mood swings and behaviour we wouldn’t dream of committing when well-rested.

The link between the amygdala and mental health doesn’t end there. A host of conditions such as depression, phobias, autism and anxiety are thought to be linked to the malfunctioning of the amygdala. Abnormal functioning may be due to developmental problems, damage or neurotransmitter imbalances. The latter of which can be linked to sleep. More below.

For advice on how to improve your chances of getting a good night’s sleep why not read up on what the specialists have to say.

 

Stress and depression

While we lie there dreaming of unicorns and rainbows our body and brain are hard at work repairing themselves from the day gone past and preparing for the day to come. A number of important processes take place. One of these processes is the regulation of stress hormone and neurotransmitter levels in our system.

If our sleep is broken, or we don’t get sufficient sleep, then this process doesn’t function properly and can lead to imbalances. It is thought that these imbalances can then either cause or at the least amplify pre-existing mental health conditions. Such as anxiety, stress and depression.  

Such is the link between poor sleep and mental health, it’s been stated that insomniacs are twenty times more likely to suffer from stress related disorders than individuals who sleep well, and five times more likely to be depressed.

It should be added that it’s not yet 100% clear if having a sleep disorder in itself leads to depression but what is known is that it does play a big role. An unfortunate cycle likely then occurs, as the inability to sleep is one of the main symptoms of both stress and depression.

 

Final Thoughts

As a society we have never slept worse. It is estimated that 1 in 3 Americans don’t get the doctor recommended 8 hours sleep a night and between 60-70 million suffer from one form of sleep disorder or another.  For some this is something as harmless as snoring but for many others insomnia is a nightly curse.

Considering the link between sleep and mental health, what we have on our hands is a ticking time bomb that is only going to benefit one group, the makers of antidepressants.

If you are worried about your mental health you need to do everything in your power to get more rest. Sleep is the most powerful drug known to mankind and the one with the least side effects. It’s also completely and utterly free. So what are waiting for – go hit the sack early and tomorrow will be a brighter day.

 


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