How Lack of Restful Sleep Takes a Toll on Your Mental Health

When’s the last time you got a really great night of rest? For many women, it’s been a while. Too long, actually! There always seems to be something that interrupts the sleep cycle and leaves you feeling groggy and sluggish when it’s time to get up in the morning.

More than just making it hard to start your day on a good note, lack of restful sleep can actually be affecting your mental health. According to a sleep study performed by the University of Michigan Medical School and subsequent article by Reuters Health, chronic sleep disorders are major catalysts for mental health issues in women—namely depression, anxiety and mood swings. Not getting enough sleep could be straining your brain in more than a few unhealthy ways.

It doesn’t just stop at anxiety or depression, either. These troubles easily bleed over into everyday life, making it hard to socialize, work and even relax. Evidence shows it creates a negative feedback loop: you’re stressed about being stressed, which makes you more stressed! It’s a hard hole to crawl out of, but it’s possible—starting with a good night’s sleep.

Sleep is relief for the brain

When you close your eyes and drift off to dreamland each night, you’re giving your brain a chance to rest. Science doesn’t know exactly how the brain shuts down and recovers during this time period, but we do know that it’s absolutely necessary to prevent cognitive decline.

The current prevailing theory is that your brain uses sleep to process and compartmentalize everything that has happened while you were awake. Many scientists believe sleep is responsible for storing things in your short- and long-term memory. When you awake in the morning, your brain will be ready to participate in a new day’s worth of activities. However, if your sleep was broken or interrupted, your brain might not have been given the chance to complete its archival task—which means it’s not able to fully refresh itself. Again, this is just a theory, but a plausible one nonetheless!

One thing is certain: without adequate sleep, your brain starts to become overloaded and fragile. Depression, anxiety, mood swings, angry outbursts and more aren’t normal—they’re your brain’s way of telling you something isn’t right.

How to break the poor sleep cycle

Getting a single night’s good sleep won’t be enough to break the pattern of poor sleep you’ve been dealing with for weeks, months or even years, but it’s a good place to start. The key is to build on a single good night’s rest. To do this, you need to develop good habits and understand what’s affecting your sleep.

The first thing to examine is your stress level. Going to bed stressed isn’t healthy, yet it’s common for many women who lead busy lives. Thankfully, there are many ways to manage stress before bed. You can try meditating or doing yoga. Or, a good book might be enough to calm you. For severe cases, some supplements like melatonin, valerian root and chamomile can induce a natural feeling of relaxation.

Taking a good look at your bedtime habits is another good way to get to the bottom of poor sleep. Are you eating or exercising too close to bedtime? Are you staring at a television, computer or phone screen too late at night? These factors and more could be overstimulating or jarring to the brain, making it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep. Consider taking a more natural approach to bedtime: one that leaves behind food, exercise, media and other variables.

Your sleep situation itself is also a critical contributor to a good night’s sleep. If you’ve got pets romping around on you in the wee hours of the morning or a mountain of heavy blankets that causes you to overheat while you sleep, you’re not going to wake up well-rested. Consider things like your mattress, pillows, blankets, sleep attire, bedmate or sources of light, among other things. What needs to change to help you sleep better?

It all comes down to comfort and relaxation. The more relaxed and comfortable you are, the better night’s sleep you’re going to have.

Sleep well, live well

Trying to live your life without getting a good night’s sleep each evening is an uphill battle. Instead of fighting bouts of depression or panic attacks because your brain is overtired, give it the restful sleep it needs to be well. You might just find that you wake up with a spring in your step, ready to face the day with a smile on your face!

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