Sleep and feelings

We’ve all been there: 

Desperately trying to fall asleep in the middle of the night? But it just doesn’t happen? You toss and turn, and toss some more. Some time passes, “Now I need to pee.” You get back to bed thinking that it’s finally going to come, the restful sleep. And eventually, it does. But you fall asleep so late that you can’t even get a few hours of rest. Before you know it, your alarm sets off and you feel like you’ve crashed in your bed from another planet. Sluggishly, you reach out to turn off the alarm (or hit the snooze, I’m not judging). With enough effort, you manage to get yourself out of bed and into the bathroom. There, you wash up while still half-asleep.

You get to the kitchen, grab something for breakfast, a coffee and set off into the world. But it doesn’t end there. You feel out of whack all day. Your motivation is low, you’ve got little energy to do your job, you don’t want to talk to people, and your cravings for junk food are at an all-time high.

And that’s just after one night of sleeping poorly. Now imagine stringing together 5-10...50 nights of poor sleep in a row. You feel like a zombie for the majority of the time, and you begin forgetting what it’s like to have energy and motivation. Before you know it, that temporary state of tiredness becomes permanent. 

Aside from that, you feel stressed out, anxious and depressed. But what caused what? Did the stress and or anxiety lead to your sleeplessness or was it the other way around? In other words, which came first: the chicken or the egg? This is quite the conundrum. We’ve known for a while that anxiety disorders can negatively impact our sleep in both quantity and quality. But, whether stress itself impacts sleep is yet to be fully understood.

Now, we could argue that stress leads to anxiety which leads to sleep problems, but human physiology is not that simple. Everyone deals with stress in different ways. What could be a very stressful month for you could feel like a breeze for Elon Musk. Because it’s difficult to quantify stress and since different people react differently, we can’t definitively say “Stress is killing your sleep!”

Research has found a strong correlation between depression and insomnia in patients. Here’s a quote from this research: About three-quarters of depressed patients have insomnia symptoms, and hypersomnia is present in about 40% of young depressed adults and 10% of older patients, with a preponderance in females. They have also found that insomnia in non-depressed individuals can eventually lead to depression.

We need more research to draw definitive conclusions as to which comes first and causes what. But, so far it would appear that insomnia and sleeplessness can eventually lead to depression. I also don’t think it’s a stretch to assume that insomnia can also lead to stress and anxiety. For example, if you have insomnia, you’ll feel crappy most of the time. Deterioration in your health, work performance and relationships can cause more stress and anxiety (which further contributes to your insomnia). It’s a vicious cycle.

And since we have known for a while that sleep is of fundamental importance for our well-being and cognitive performance, we should all strive to improve both its quality and quantity. Chances are, we’ll find noticeable improvements in our energy levels, mood, health markers, symptoms of depression, and overall stress.

Let’s make sleep our first area to address for our overall wellbeing outcomes, you know it makes sense!

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