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How Poor Sleep Affects Hormones and Mental Health

man in bed eyes opened suffering insomnia and sleep disorderIn today’s high-paced society, the benefits of a good night’s rest can be easily overlooked. While you may be tempted to skimp on sleep and do something you consider more “productive” with your time, neglecting sleep can actually hurt your productivity in the long run.

With the hour time change associated with daylight saving time coming up, practicing good sleep hygiene may be even more important in the coming weeks. A 2007 study on the sleep patterns of people in central Europe collected data for eight weeks around the shifts to and from daylight saving time. Researchers found that circadian rhythms never completely adjusted to the change in time. Even though people in areas that observe the daylight saving time shift will gain an hour of sleep on November 1, that time change could disrupt a previously established sleep schedule indefinitely.

A recent study of more than 21,000 employees in the United Kingdom revealed that those who slept less than 6 hours per night were noticeably less productive than those who slept 7 or 8 hours each night. The reason for this lies in the brain.

Sleep is crucial for optimal brain health. During sleep, the brain consolidates memories, learns and processes information, and releases toxins and other damaging molecules associated with neurodegenerative illnesses such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Chronic sleep deprivation can negatively impact your mental health, which in turn can inhibit productivity. It can slow down your thought processes, stifle creativity, increase irritability, impair concentration and coordination, and make learning more difficult.

The Results of Not Sleeping Enough

Sleep Hygiene Infographic by

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Sleep is necessary for the central nervous system to function properly. It is during sleep that new neural pathways in the brain are established. Sleep deprivation can negatively impact both short-term and long-term memory. Research has shown nerve connections that form our memories are strengthened during sleep. In other words, without sleep, we may have trouble learning new things and may be significantly more susceptible to general forgetfulness.

Lack of sleep can affect your emotions as well. A University of California, Berkley research study revealed the amygdala—an emotional center of the brain—was about 60% more active in people who were sleep deprived than those who were well rested. The study also showed a disruption in the connection between the frontal lobe and the amygdala, meaning when you skimp on sleep, you may have significantly less control over your emotional responses.

Studies of neurochemistry indicate that sleep helps to create emotional resilience, and chronic sleep disruptions are more likely to lead to emotional vulnerability and negative thought patterns.People who are lacking sleep are more likely to anger, become depressed, and have more difficulty coping with stress. Chronic sleep deprivation is known to induce hallucinations and can trigger mania in people who experience bipolar. Lack of sleep can also impair judgment, distort thinking, and slow reaction time, which means that driving when you’re exhausted is akin to many of the dangers of driving intoxicated.

Practicing self-care to meet your own needs also becomes more difficult when you don’t get enough sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, those who are sleep deprived are less likely to exercise, have sex, eat a healthy diet, and engage in hobbies and leisure activities.

Your physical health also suffers if you don’t get enough rest. The risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, immune disorders, and other illnesses increases without good sleep hygiene. Additionally, improper rest increases the production of the stress hormone cortisol, which not only makes you more stressed out, but also increases your likelihood of gaining weight.

Sleeping with Too Much Light

Falling asleep with the television on has become a common practice for many, but it could affect both the quantity and quality of a person’s sleep. Research indicates too much light exposure during sleep is associated with increased symptoms of depression and thoughts of suicide. The exact reason for this is still being researched, though scientists believe excess unnatural light may impact the body’s natural circadian rhythms, which helps manage the body’s sleep/wake cycles. Researchers also hypothesize that it may alter the natural secretion pattern of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep quality and helps people fall asleep.

Inconsistent Sleep Schedule

Irregular sleep schedules may be just as detrimental to mental health as lack of sleep. Inconsistent sleep routines have been linked to behavior issues in school-aged children. Certain mental health issues may also be more prevalent for those who work overnight shifts, including one called shift work sleep disorder. Studies of neurochemistry indicate that sleep helps foster better emotional resilience, and chronic sleep disruptions are more likely to lead to emotional vulnerability and negative thought patterns.

Sleep issues are generally more common among people who experience mental health conditions. Chronic sleep problems affect 50% to 80% of people currently being treated for psychiatric conditions, whereas sleep problems affect only 10% to 18% of the general adult population in the United States. Sleep disturbances are especially common in people diagnosed with bipolar and attention-deficit hyperactivity (ADHD), and those diagnosed with anxiety and depression.

Tips for Good Sleep Hygiene

Maintaining good sleep hygiene can help stabilize your mental health and make you more resilient to stress. Here are some ways to increase the quantity and improve the quality of your sleep:

  • Exercise: Routine physical activity can help people fall asleep quicker, experience deeper sleep, and wake up fewer times during the night.
  • Keep a routine sleep-and-wake schedule: Maintaining a consistent sleep/wake routine, even on the weekends, promotes better hormone balance and helps keep your circadian rhythms regular.
  • Use the bedroom only for sleep and sex: Avoid using the bedroom for activities other than sleep or sex, as this can create a habit of wakefulness than can keep you up at night.
  • Avoid or limit alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, and other mind-altering substances: These substances can all affect the body’s natural sleep/wake cycles and keep you awake when you need to be sleeping.
  • Keep your bedroom dark and free of electronics: A study by the American Chemical Society revealed that smartphones and tablets may be affecting the quality and quantity of many people’s sleep. These devices put out blue light, which cues your brain that it’s daylight and not time to sleep. Rather than checking your texts and scrolling through social media in bed, consider putting the smartphones and tablets away at least an hour prior to bedtime.
  • Use a red night light if needed: Red light has been shown to increase drowsiness and encourage restful sleep.
  • Wear a sleep mask: If you must sleep in a bright or well-lit space, consider using a sleep mask to block out the light.
  • Get daylight exposure bright and early: Waking up early in the morning and exposing yourself to natural light can help regulate your body’s circadian rhythms.
  • Use relaxation techniques: Meditation, deep breathing exercises, guided imagery, and muscle relaxation exercises can all help calm the body and quiet the mind when trying to induce sleep.
  • Clear your mind with therapy:  Many kinds of therapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy, can be used to change negative thoughts about sleep and build confidence in the ability to achieve adequate rest.


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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • alyssa

    October 29th, 2015 at 8:03 AM

    I’m an ER nurse so the concept of a really good night’s sleep is a foreign concept to me.

  • MarcO

    October 29th, 2015 at 2:45 PM

    It wasn’t until I had to get a 3rd shift job right out of college because that was all I could find did I understand how important sleep was for me. I had kind of always stayed up late and then slept late, and sometimes I didn’t even let college classes keep me from living that lifestyle. But it is different when you have to punch a time clock and these are the hours that you have to work. There is something far more attractive about staying up late when you are out partying and just being a kid than it is when you have to do it full time for a job. That was rough, and a real eye opener that this was definitely not something that I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

  • Sly

    October 29th, 2015 at 6:26 PM

    My wife says that lack of sleep or even just poor sleep habits can have a negative impact on your weight too. True?

  • Peggy

    October 30th, 2015 at 10:56 AM

    Funny how even a relatively small amount of time like an hour can have a huge impact on your job and overall daily performance. You wouldn’t think that this would have that much of a role in your life but over time 30 minutes here and an hour there really do add up!

  • Graciella

    October 30th, 2015 at 7:22 PM

    Goodness I knew it affected how I felt and how I reacted emotionally to things, but I didn’t have a clue that lack of sleep could also have that kind of effect on your physical health. No wonder there are days when I am quick to get angry and feel so tired and sluggish. I guess that after years of not getting enough rest it has just been a cumulative effect on me.

  • Burke

    October 31st, 2015 at 8:39 AM

    Can I just tell you how many relationships I burned through and ruined when I worked late night shifts? It was awful. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be with them but during the time when normal couples would be together I would need to sleep and the times when i was awake, well let’s just say that likely I wasn’t on my best behavior. NO the late night work didn’t work for me and I probably drove away more than one great woman when I was with them during this time.

  • margaret

    October 31st, 2015 at 2:18 PM

    On the nights when I get a good night’s sleep then I feel AMAZING the next day. And so you can be certain that on the nights when I either stay up too late or don’t get a good rest, then I am slumping and just barely getting through my day.

  • Todd

    November 2nd, 2015 at 7:54 AM

    I can’t even stand it when it is a full moon outside and it is so bright t is shining through my bedroom windows! I need blackout curtains just to battle that a few times a month!

  • Keelia

    November 3rd, 2015 at 11:38 AM

    I start practicing my breathing exercises when I am having a hard time sleeping and that is a big help to me.

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