Ever heard the expression ‘a great day begins with a good night’s sleep’? For the sake of our everyday wellbeing, let’s take a look at how sleep impacts mental health and contributes to a positive outlook on life.
Life is full of challenges, both big and small – and being well rested helps us to face these challenges with resilience. Anyone who’s gone to work feeling exhausted will know: sleep is essential if we want to operate at our best.
Despite this, however, 4 in 10 Australians (1) and 1 in 4 New Zealanders (2) currently aren’t getting enough sleep. This can have a significant impact on our health, including a weakened immune system, and negative effects on our memory and cognitive ability. Recent research has also found that sleep deprivation increases the chances of developing depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. But long before these stages are reached, lack of quality sleep can chip away at our general wellbeing, leaving us feeling more irritable and anxious than we think.
But why is this so?
Sleep: Nature’s repair for the brain
Our brain is in control of everything we see, do and feel – and at the end of a day, our brain needs repair. Sleep repairs and maintains our brain, restoring it and preparing it for the day ahead.
There are two stages of sleep: REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, and non-REM sleep.
Non-REM sleep is the stage preceding REM, where the body is cooling down and relaxing.
Then comes REM sleep, the deepest stage of sleep. It is during REM sleep that the eyes move in a rapid pattern from side to side under your eyelids, and brain activity becomes similar to how it is when you’re awake. REM sleep is the stage where we dream the most. It allows the brain to repair from the day that has just passed, whilst also laying the groundwork for the next day.
So how does REM sleep positively impact your mental health?
The World Health Organisation defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.” (3)
While we’re still learning more every day, research has shown that deep sleep has huge benefits to a person’s sense of self and mental wellbeing.
Do trivial problems always seem worse after a night without proper sleep? Or perhaps you’ve been upset over something that now, in hindsight, doesn’t seem so bad?
Research from Harvard shows that sleep deprivation leads us to be more emotionally vulnerable (4) and also sets the stage for negative patterns of thinking. Accordingly, a good night’s sleep fosters emotional resilience – making it easier for us to have a positive outlook on life. If we are well-rested, we are more likely to bounce back from upsetting or stressful events and feelings – instead of giving in to feelings of hopelessness or being overwhelmed.
Having to make big decisions in life can often seem harder when we are sleep deprived. The Current Biology journal recently reported that the brain processes and consolidates complex information when we sleep (5), allowing us to make decisions more easily when we are awake the next day. This brings some insight into the old saying, ‘sleep on it’. Lack of proper sleep affects our ability to make decisions with clarity.
Sleep also enhances our ability to control emotions through the way it regulates stress hormones in the body. When we don’t sleep at night, our bodies produce more stress hormones than usual. REM sleep allows the brain to produce chemicals that suppress the stress hormone – contributing to a more relaxed mood the next day. The amount of sleep we get directly contributes to how we respond to adversity, and cope with the challenges of a busy life.
Getting enough REM sleep has been found to enhance memory, learning, and cognitive skills, so much so that if we don’t get a proper night’s sleep, our ability to learn is reduced dramatically. We rely on our memory every day, so why not make it easier for ourselves? Getting more REM sleep is making a strategic move towards better mental health.
Tomorrow starts tonight. One of the best things you can do to to improve your performance and mental health is to ensure you’re getting a good night’s sleep. It’s no wonder athletes at the Australian Institute of Sport trust our Domino by A.H. Beard range to give them a winning edge on the track and in the pool.
Browse A.H Beard’s range of sleep solutions today, to discover how you can maximise your sleep quality to strengthen your positive outlook and get the most out of life.
- Asleep on the Job: Costs of Inadequate Sleep in Australia, Sleep Health Foundation 2017
- Research by Sleep Wake Centre, Massey University, Wellington Campus
- World Health Organisation (WHO), 2014. Mental Health: a State of Wellbeing.
- Sleep and mental health, Harvard Mental Health Letter, Harvard Medical School 2019
- Inducing Task-Relevant Responses to Speech in the Sleeping Brain, Current Biology Journal, Vol. 24, Issue 18, September 2014