4 ways a lack of sleep can affect your mental health

If you didn’t know it already, sleep is absolutely imperative for your wellbeing. If you’re finding your mood is suffering, sleep expert Olivia Arezzolo explains you might want to look closely at your sleep patterns. 

Sleep: it’s free. And we all want more of it, so why is it so hard to get? Specifically – that consistent, restorative, uninterrupted, eight-hours-a-night kinda sleep. Which is why we’ve enlisted Sydney-based sleep expert Olivia Arezzolo to solve our myriad of sleep concerns with our new editorial series Sleep Well Wednesdays. Check back each week and you’ll be off to the land of nod before you know it.

Feeling stressed, anxious and depressed most days of the week? If you’re also sleeping poorly, there could be a connection, and I’m here to share the science behind it.

Remember – these effects are reversed with quality sleep… so make sure it’s one of your top goals in 2021.

Because really, stress, anxiety, feeling flat and moody? No thanks. Spending the day feeling vibrant yet calm and centred? Yes please.

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Why lack of sleep leaves you… stressed and anxious

Notice you can’t switch off after sleeping barely a wink? It’s not your imagination, it’s biochemistry. Academic research has found that just one night of insufficient sleep can increase cortisol levels by 37 percent.

After two nights, cortisol levels increase by 45 percent. As this is an awakening hormone, this can leave you feeling anxious, restless, nervous and unable to ‘switch off’.

Second to that, cortisol also makes you feel stressed throughout the night; cue difficulties in falling and staying asleep, and those dreaded 3am wake-ups.

Interestingly, this is particularly likely if you’re an early riser because you have a biological predisposition to be more anxious than those who prefer late nights.

Why lack of sleep leaves you… flat and depressed

Evidence indicates 83 percent of those with depression lack sufficient sleep.

The overarching link between lack of sleep and ‘feeling flat’ boils down to the HPA axis, a brain region controlling emotions: Research shows it becomes overactive.

Initially, this is felt as extra alertness and anxiety, however, prolonged overactivity of this region, the reverse happens: and you feel constantly flat.

Think about it. Towards the end of the year when you’re trying to run at 100 miles an hour, after a while, no amount of coffee or sugar seems to perk you up, right? That’s a sign of adrenal exhaustion, and stems from an prolonged overactivity of the HPA axis.

In contrast to above, early risers are at favour here, it’s night owls that need to be careful. Research shows you’re 20 times more likely to suffer depression compared to those who wake early.

Why lack of sleep leaves you… moody and irritable

Emotions are controlled and stabilised by the frontal region. However, when sleep-deprived, this area of the brain is impaired, thus – your mood is up one day, down the next.

Consequently, studies show you’re more likely to conflict with others, perceive a neutral situation as negative and blow things out of proportion.

Moodiness is a key trait of those chronically sleeping poorly – you know, the types who can’t even remember what a good night’s sleep felt like? So if that’s you here, be particularly mindful.

Olivia Arezzolo is a sleep expert who holds a Bachelor of Social Science (Psychology); Certificate of Sleep Psychology, Diploma of Health Science (Nutritional Medicine); Certificate of Fitness III + IV. You can find her online here.