Sleep is a biological necessity that’s easy to forget about until you’re not getting enough of it. But, can lack of sleep or poor sleep quality affect your well-being? The answer is most certainly yes. Sleep affects all aspects of your health, from your reaction times to your emotional stability. Adequate sleep allows you to be present in the moment and a full participant in developing your own wellbeing.
How Does Sleep Affect Emotional Stability and Reasoning?
Emotional stability and mental clarity rely on sleep. The prefrontal cortex, which controls executive functions including concentration and decision-making, decreases its activity once you enter into a state of sleep deprivation. (Most adults need at least seven hours of sleep and varying stages of sleep deprivation set in the less sleep you get.)
At the same time, the emotional center of your brain, called the amygdala, becomes over sensitive to anything negative – emotions, thoughts, or events. The decrease in reasoning and increase in emotion leaves you vulnerable to the irritability, sadness, aggression, anxiety, and depression associated with chronic sleep deprivation.
Can Lack of Sleep Alter Mental Capabilities and Reflexes?
Your ability (or inability) to sleep affects almost all of your mental capacities including your mental clarity and reflexes. Let’s take your driving abilities, for example. Have you ever been behind the wheel only to find you can’t remember the last few miles you’ve driven? Or found yourself missing your turn or exit because you lost focus? Those are common symptoms of the mental changes that take place because of sleep deprivation. But what about physical performance?
A study conducted amongst the Stanford University men’s basketball team tested the performance of athletes after an extended sleep period of 10 hours. Results showed that free throw and three-point percentages increased while sprint times decreased. The participants also reported less sleep-related issues during the day like yawning and fatigue along with better moods. The vast majority of us aren’t collegiate athletes but does it matter? Your physical performance, whether you’re running on the treadmill or playing with your kids in the backyard, improves with better sleep.
What Can You Do to Improve the Quality of Your Sleep?
When you think about improving your sleep you probably imagine spending more time in bed. However, time in bed is only part of the equation. Your sleep efficiency, that’s the ratio of the time slept versus time spent in bed, is more revealing than your hours in bed alone. Your sleep environment and personal habits can all boost your sleep efficiency.
- Make Comfort a Priority: An old, lumpy mattress could be the culprit for an achy back and sore shoulder(s). If it’s been over eight years since you bought a mattress, it’s probably time for something new. Look for a mattress that supports your weight and preferred sleep style. A medium-firm mattress is a good neutral option that works for those of average weight and most sleep positions.
- Make Time for Sleep: Go to bed at the same every night and be sure to get there early enough to give yourself 15 to 20 minutes to fall asleep. The more strictly you adhere to a bedtime the better your body will be able to regulate and respond to the release of sleep hormones.
- Eat Healthy and Smart: Food fuels your life. To improve your sleep efficiency, avoid high fat, heavy foods close to bedtime. If you need a late-night snack, try foods with nutrients that are used to make sleep hormones like dairy products, cherries, and almonds.
Sleep plays an integral role in your wellbeing. When you make time for it, you’ll find yourself in better mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing for the life you want to live.