Sleep, a basic need for wellbeing

Feeling well or mental wellbeing is an important part of your general health. According to the World Health Organisation your general health depends on three pillars: nutrition, physical activity and sleep. However, are all three pillars equally important? According to a recent study in young adults, sleep is just a little bit more important. Makes sense, as sleep shortage undermines the other two pillars.

The influence of sleep on nutritional habits is related tot the functioning of a couple of important hunger hormones, called grheline and leptine. Sleep shortage disrupts their functioning, causing a more often and prolonged feeling of hunger, resulting in overeating. Sleep also influences the production of the stress hormone cortisol. Under normal circumstances, cortisol levels rise during the second part of the night with a peak in the morning, and gradually decrease during the day as a preparation for the night. Due to consistent and chronic sleep shortage, cortisol levels also rise during the evening and decrease slower during the day. This increased cortisol level results in a craving for fatty and sugary foods. In summary, sleeping not enough makes you eat too much and unhealthy.

With regard to physical activity, sleep shortage is detrimental as well. If you are tired, you will not feel in the mood for intense physical activity. And if you do so, you will probably give up much quicker. Sleep shortage disrupts the functioning of the prefrontal cortex, the area of your brain responsible for... perseverance. Finally, sleep shortage also results in more sports injuries and a longer recovery - again less physical activity!  

More negativity and stress

Certain situations trigger negative memories. You can suppress those, or they can linger on in your head and make you worry. The ease with which you suppress them is related to the amount of hours you sleep. The more you sleep, the better it works. If you sleep not enough, you continue worrying. And those who worry, experience sleep complaints... 

Unfortunately, this is not the only vicious cycle triggered by sleep shortage. As described above, sleep shortage impacts your stress hormone: it is higher in the morning, decreases slower during the day and when you go to bed in the evening, it is still too high. Every day, daily stressors gradually increases your stress levels. By the time you go to bed, they can be too high, resulting in sleep onset difficulties or frequent awakenings during the night.

Twice as likely to become depressed

I already mentioned that sleep shortage decreases the proper functioning of your prefrontal cortex. This also results in higher anxiety levels. Especially deep sleep appears to be important for anxiety: a lack of deep sleep can increase your level of anxiety during the day up to 30%!  Moreover, the disturbed functioning of the prefrontal cortex also results in a decreased emotion regulation. It will be harder to talk about them, which can lead to social isolation, loneliness and impaired social relationships.

If you add this to the decreased ability to suppress negative memories or thoughts, you will not be surprised: Sleep shortage is an important risk factor for depression. People who suffer from insomnia, are twice as likely to develop a depression. Not enough sleep also maintains this situation and can even aggravate it: you are feeling depressed, you can't suppress it, which results in more sleep complaints, and you miss the "emotional reset" from a good night's rest. A negative spiral that is hard to interrupt.

Sleep better, and feel good!

Sleep definitely has an influence on your emotional wellbeing! Those who sleep well, eat well and are more physically active, resulting in a general and mental wellbeing. Negative thoughts are easily dismissed. Stress is no longer an issue - well, unless that part you need to perform of course ;-). You feel less anxious, and your worrying mind is working fewer hours. Negative feelings are more easily replaced by positive ones, or it is much easier to talk about them, which is a relief. 

Do you experience sleep complaints, do you wish to break through that vicious cycle, and feel better? Make an appointment for our online sleep improvement training. 

Aisha Cortoos
Clinical Psychologist - Psychotherapist - PhD in Psychology
Sleep/stress expert