What to Do When Sleep Loss Affects Your Mood
Did you know that sleep loss can affect your mood? When schedules get busy and life doesn’t seem to slow down, one of the first priorities we let go is sleep. Unfortunately, this sleep-mood connection can have a negative impact on the way we interact with others.
It’s possible to fix, though. When we focus on reestablishing healthy sleeping habits like limiting phone and computer use and maintaining a sleep schedule, our moods and overall mental health can improve.
The Sleep-Mood Connection
Researchers have determined this important connection to mood through correlational and experimental studies. The results suggest that those with sleep deprivation are more likely to feel irritable, angry, and hostile.
Sleep loss is also associated with study participants feeling more depressed than those with full nights of sleep. This heightened emotional reactivity shows that those with less sleep than their peers are more likely to react strongly and negatively when there’s an unexpected situation.
The science behind this lies in the amygdala. This is the brain structure related to negative emotions like anger and rage, and sleep loss enhances activity in this part of the brain.
There is also research showing that those who are sleep deprived report feeling less friendly and empathetic, and have an overall lower positive mood. One of the most intriguing parts of research into this area is that those experiencing sleep loss were less likely to enjoy the emotional benefits of a good experience.
Those with a healthy amount of sleep are more likely to fully appreciate an achievement than those with sleep deprivation. It may be tempting to trade sleep for experiences on a vacation, but the better the sleep the more you’ll retain and enjoy all the amazing experiences.
How to Recover from Poor Sleep and Mood Disruption
While at times we can't control how well and how much we can sleep, we can control how we recover. After recognizing the symptoms of sleep deprivation, begin to focus on getting back to the basics. Once you begin to recover, you'll soon notice your mood returning to normal.
Here are the six best ways to get your sleep routine back after a break:
1. Avoid computer screens
2. Launder all bedding
3. Avoid tobacco and alcohol
4. Maintain a healthy diet
5. Reestablish a sleep schedule
6. Reestablish your bedtime routine
1. Avoiding screens for at least a half hour before bed will prevent additional blue light exposure that can affect your circadian rhythm. (An hour is ideal.) If you’re working on your computer or using an eReader, use blue light blocking glasses to support a healthy night’s sleep. Blue light blocking phone and computer screen protectors are also available.
2. While there may not be research to support this point, polls show that clean sheets are one of the best ways to support healthy sleep. Between the scent and feel of your bedding, you’ll be excited to get to sleep each night. Washing your sheets regularly even after returning to your normal sleep schedule can help maintain that healthy sleep on a nightly basis.
If it’s been a few years since you’ve replaced your bedding, this can be an ideal way to help get your sleep back on track. High-quality sheets, pillows, and comforters help create an environment that supports healthy sleep. This is particularly important in the summer, when summer weight bedding can help you sleep better even on hot nights.
3. Avoiding tobacco and alcohol can also help you recover from a period of poor sleep. Tobacco is a stimulant, which prevents the body from entering into a restful state. According to the Sleep Health Foundation, alcohol use before sleep can lead to more frequent awakenings, night sweats, headaches and contributes to a less restful experience. It’s recommended to avoid alcohol for at least four hours before bed. This is one of the most helpful ways to support restarting a healthy sleep routine.
4. Another ideal way to support reestablishing a health sleep routine is to eat a healthy diet filled with veggies, whole grains, and healthy fats. Sugar can impact sleep and lead to restlessness. While it’s certainly okay to indulge in moderation, limit the sweets before bedtime. A healthy diet supports the complex balance of hormones needed to stay healthy and active, including melatonin and cortisol. The better we support these functions with our diet, the better we sleep.
5. Poor sleep often comes from disruptions in our sleep schedule. When we take the time to reestablish a bedtime routine, our physical and mental health benefit. Focus on going to bed and waking up at the same time, even on weekends. Predictable sleep is essential for a healthy mood, and a sleep schedule can help you accomplish this.
For nurses, doctors, pilots, and any other careers that depend on a demanding work schedule, this can be a challenge. It’s not impossible, though! Focus on sleeping consistently even on days off, and avoid caffeine when leaving work so you’re more likely to fall asleep once home.
6. Your bedtime routine signals to your brain that it’s time to sleep. By reestablishing (or taking the time to establish a new routine), you can help your body get back into a rhythm as soon as possible. Make sure to include low lighting, brushing your teeth, and washing your face, as well as other activities like a short yoga flow, journaling, or reading.
The essential part of this recovery is learning to read the signs, so you can begin this process as early as possible to reduce the impact it has on your life.
In order to support mental health and interactions with our friends, family, and coworkers, make sure to emphasize sleep. When you begin to realize how sleep loss is affecting your mood, reestablishing your healthy sleep habits is key. By focusing on evening activities like reading and eating as well as reestablishing a healthy sleep schedule, we can begin to focus more on our relationships and less on how our mood is affected.