Mental Health Moment | Sleep
May 23, 2022
What is the most tired you’ve ever felt? Do you remember the feeling of deep fatigue, exhaustion, and lack of energy that comes with a lack of sleep, or with too much physical exertion? If you’ve ever tried to drive on a really long road trip and kept trying to drive long after the point where you should have stopped to sleep, you’ll know how difficult it is to function like you should when you’re overly tired.
Sleep deprivation can impair your ability to do the everyday things you need to do, but it can also cause more serious issues like high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack, heart failure or stroke, obesity, depression, and reduced immunity. If you miss one good night’s sleep, you may feel the effects the next day by experiencing irritability, moodiness, lethargy, a lack of focus, and memory problems. But if you have chronic sleep deprivation, meaning you regularly do not get enough sleep, you may struggle with the more serious issues long-term.
There are a lot of reasons someone may not sleep well – worry, stress, and anxiety can keep us awake with all sorts of things running through our minds. It may be that too much caffeine was consumed, or someone took a long or late nap that interrupts the need for nighttime sleep. If you have irregular bedtimes and waking times, your body will not develop the rhythm needed for regular good sleep. Even a bad mattress can keep someone from getting the proper sleep needed. Being awakened in the middle of the night, like with a new baby or small children, pets that need to go outside, or even a snoring spouse, can all interrupt the patterns of good sleep, and have long-term effects if these awakenings happen often.
Sleep deprivation has been used as a form of torture, and if you’ve ever been THAT tired, you may understand why. Someone may care deeply about something when they’re feeling at their very best, but when they are overly tired, they may find themselves caring less about that thing. Using sleep deprivation as a torture method is a way to get someone feeling weaker and weaker, more apathetic, and breaking them down where they’re willing to do almost anything just to be allowed to close their eyes and sleep.
I was recently on a long plane ride and I got the unenviable middle seat. In the middle seat you can’t lean either direction, and so when you want to go to sleep your head can only fall forward. I was very, very tired and had taken medicine for motion sickness which also makes me sleepy. All I wanted was to lay my head down and go to sleep, but I couldn’t. I kicked my legs out in front of me as far as I could, and I made a pillow with my sweatshirt and tried to use it to prop up my chin. I put the tray table down and tried laying forward on my arms. Nothing worked which allowed me to just sleep, and I quickly became absolutely miserable, because I could not do the one thing I very much wanted and needed to do.. sleep. Being overly tired is uncomfortable, irritating, and can have many effects on our overall health and well-being.
During a good night’s sleep our brain processes everything that happened during the day. If you’ve ever been struggling with a problem and woke up the next morning with clarity, it’s because your brain processed that problem while you slept. There have been studies that show that dementia and Alzheimer’s may happen sooner, and be more severe, for people who have struggled with lifetime chronic sleep deprivation. Good sleep also helps us store memories and process emotions. So, if you’re not sleeping, you may find that your memory isn’t as good as it should be, or you may find yourself experiencing more negative emotions than others. The dopamine levels in our brain are also affected by sleep loss, and so sleep deprivation may start looking a lot like depression. Not only can sleep deprivation look like depression, but if you’re driving, for example, sleep loss can look exactly like intoxication. So don’t drive after drinking, but also don’t drive when you’re extra tired.
Let’s talk about the heart – lack of sleep can affect your heart function, and also cause high blood pressure. Loss of sleep can also lower your immune system and prevent someone from making as many “killer cells” as needed, which makes some more susceptible to things like cancer. A lack of sleep can also throw off our balance of hormones, creating an entirely new set of issues.
So how do you get good sleep? Try these quick trips – 1) Journal before bed. This helps clear your mind of all the things that may otherwise keep you awake; 2) Eliminate caffeine from your diet after about noon, allowing your body to cleanse itself of the caffeine before you try to sleep; 3) Avoid screen time right before bed – this means TV, phone, computer, etc.; 4) Try meditation, or at least listen to a meditation as you try to go to sleep, as this will help calm nerves and anxiety, relaxing you so that you’re able to sleep; 5) Reduce the things in your environment that frequently wake you – dripping water, slamming doors, etc.; 6) Keep your room dark and cool, and play some background white noise like rain or ocean sounds; 7) Stick to a routine – pick one bedtime and one waking time, and try to adhere to that schedule so that your body knows when it’s time to sleep.; 8) Keep a sleep journal, or use an app on your phone that helps track your sleeping hours – knowledge is power.