Sleep is at the foundation of our mental and physical health, yet many of us don’t get enough of it. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), approximately one out of three Americans don’t get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep nightly, a problem so widespread that they’ve named it a public health epidemic. As more research is conducted on sleep and its effects on the body and mind, it becomes increasingly apparent that sleep is far more important than we give it credit for. One recent discovery found that sleep allows the brain to remove toxins from neural tissue, something researchers believe could offer answers regarding the link between lack of sleep and Alzheimer’s disease.
“Sleep is the golden chain that binds health and our bodies together.” — Thomas Dekker
Sleep deprivation is assumed by many as being unable to sleep for days on end, but it’s actually gradually losing sleep over time. Most of sleep deprivation is rapid eye movement (REM) deprivation; REM is a part of the sleep cycle where the body becomes more relaxed and the brain becomes more active. Normally people spend about 20 percent of their sleep cycle in REM, but disrupted sleep can interrupt the cycle, causing issues with memory, the nervous and immune systems, as well as a loss of balance, reflexes, and appetite.
“It is in your best interest to avoid sleep debt, otherwise be prepared to pay both the DEBT and the INTEREST!” — Stan Jacobs
Recent research has revealed the importance of sleep in mood regulation, specifically the link between sleep and anxiety. When someone doesn’t get enough sleep, the amygdala, a structure in the brain linked to emotion, becomes increasingly aroused. There’s also increased activity in other emotion-generating regions of the brain as well as reduced activity in the emotion-regulating regions. Poor sleep can also trigger spikes in cortisol (a stress hormone) early in the morning. Researchers say this may explain why people with anxiety often wake with a burst of anxious feelings.
“I’ve got a bad case of the 3:00 am guilts — you know, when you lie in bed awake and replay all those things you didn’t do right?” — D.D. Barant
The unfortunate news is that the sleep-anxiety link appears to be a vicious cycle. People with anxiety issues often have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, and lack of sleep contributes to further anxiety. The good news is the negative effects of sleep loss and deprivation appear to be reversible — by only one night of restful sleep. This “recovery sleep” appears to bring not only anxiety levels back to normal but also other affected body systems. So, even if you struggle to sleep well, making a point to get at least one or two recovery nights in a week can significantly help with the negative mood effects and physical symptoms caused by sleep deprivation.
“A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for anything.” — Irish Proverb
If you suffer from anxiety, this may be easier said than done. Before taking sleep medications which may leave you feeling groggy in the morning, try a few holistic ways to help reduce anxiety and help you catch those elusive Z’s:
- Exercise in the morning or afternoon (avoid nighttime, as it can keep you awake).
- Write in a journal.
- Practice relaxation techniques such as meditation, mindfulness, or breathing exercises.
- Avoid screens of any kind an hour prior to bed.
- Drink herbal teas that contain sleep-aiding herbs such as chamomile, catnip, and magnolia bark.
Looking for more ideas? Check out this list of helpful sleep aid tips!