Sleep is a highly underappreciated aspect of everyday life and wellbeing. Many people will forgo sleep in the means of getting stuff done without a second thought. The same cannot be said about working out or eating healthy as that individual would most likely prioritize their health and wellbeing. Even though sleep is often an afterthought it is just as important as eating well and getting exercise for your health.
Sleep is connected to many different aspects of your overall well-being. A lack of sleep can suppress your immune system, have negative impacts on your cardiovascular health, affect your body’s blood sugar regulation, and significantly impact your mental wellbeing.
Below is a closer look at why we sleep, how sleep impacts mental wellbeing, as well as habits to help facilitate better sleep and healthier mental wellbeing.
Why do we sleep?
It is known that a lack of sleep causes you to feel crummy and function suboptimally, but other than that the reason why we sleep is largely debated. From an observational point of view, sleep includes four distinct stages of sleep where an individual goes from fully conscious and alert to non-responsive with slowed bodily processes.
The significance of sleep is debated mainly because of its far-reaching impacts on the body. Sleep by some is considered a mechanism to restore neurotransmitters while others believe sleep is for the brain to consolidate events throughout a day. The reality is that there are most likely multiple purposes of sleep and that the true purpose of sleep is a combination of the many theories revolving around sleep.
The energy conservation theory states that the evolutionary purpose of sleep is to conserve energy. Animals are typically nocturnal or diurnal which are terms utilized to describe what time of day they are awake. Animals will typically adapt to their specific time of day by having certain types of vision and features that allow them to survive during that time of day and obtain sources of food. It is difficult for animals to adapt to the two drastically different landscapes night and day so sleep could be a means for improving their survivability.
The main talking point for the energy conservation theory is that the body slows its metabolic processes down significantly while asleep. Digestion, heart rate, and respiration rate all decrease while sleeping.
In the wild conserving energy during the time of day that you are unequipped for could increase chances of survival and thus be a possible reason for sleep. Conserving energy through sleep also represents a method that animals can effectively prolong how long a meal can sustain them.
Restorative theory of sleep
The restorative theory of sleep looks at sleep as a mechanism for cellular, neural, and chemical reactions to occur and restore the brain in a way to be conscious and alert the following day. This theory is supported by the many cellular processes that occur while sleeping. Tissue repair, breakdown of neurotransmitters like adenosine, and hormonal release all occur during sleep and can be hindered without it.
The restorative theory is one of the more popular and researched theories as to why people sleep. One way that researchers try to understand how sleep impacts the body is by observing the consequences of going without it for extended periods of time.
Cognitive and memory consolidation
Another popular theory is that sleep is utilized for the brain to consolidate information, memory, and organization. The brain is a complex network of neurons that create new pathways when you learn new things.
One of the largest bodies of evidence for this theory is children. Children can require upwards of 10 hours of sleep in a night and are constantly experiencing things for the first time and are constantly learning. The need for the brain to process and organize all of this new information is one of the reasons it is thought that the youth need more sleep than adults.
How sleep can impact mental wellbeing
Sleep is an important aspect of overall wellbeing. It is often overlooked and hardly ever given a second look for its importance. Everyone knows that good sleep will ensure you feel less tired the next day, but sleep has many other farther reaching impacts on your mental wellbeing.
Eating, sleeping, and breathing are all required for us to live and without quality sleep, you could see a decline in your ability to function at your best. Sleep is linked to your ability to focus, have sustained energy levels, productivity, and even your mood.
If you have a difficult time with sleep and frequently get a poor night’s rest, you may encounter an impact on at least one of these aspects of mental wellbeing.
How to support mental wellbeing through healthy sleep habits
Trouble getting the perfect night’s rest is an increasingly common problem. Whether it be from stress or technology, more and more people are finding it harder and harder to get a good night’s rest to feel rejuvenated in the morning.
Just like getting in shape, you shouldn’t expect to get the best night’s sleep without working at it. Establishing healthy sleep habits is one of the best ways you can facilitate better sleep and help support better mental wellbeing. Below is a look at some great sleep habits you can implement into your life.
Consistent wake-up time
The number one piece of advice for trying to get a good night’s rest is to wake up at the same time every day. The human body runs on a 24-hour clock known as the circadian rhythm. Waking up at the same time every day trains your circadian rhythm which can effectively improve your ability to fall asleep and wake up feeling fresh.
Establishing a consistent wake-up time is ideal because no matter what time you go to bed, your body will self-correct. Let’s say you wake up at 7 a.m. every morning and stay up late one night. Rather than sleeping in you should still wake up at 7 a.m. and your body will naturally be tired and will most likely go to sleep earlier the following night to make up for lost sleep.
A nighttime routine is a great habit to help you wind down before bed. A bedtime routine could consist of avoiding bright artificial light, avoiding screens, reading, journaling, or even meditating a certain amount of time before bed. The ultimate goal of establishing a bedtime routine is to help guide yourself into a relaxed state which can help you fall asleep.
Another benefit of bedtime routines is that over time your body will begin to make associations with the routine with time to go to bed. Essentially once it is a solid part of your routine, the process of dimming lights, turning off screens, and reading will send a signal to your body that you are going to sleep soon which can help you to fall asleep easier.
In addition to a nighttime routine, you should also create a morning routine that gets you out of bed and moving. If you suffer from poor quality sleep, mornings are probably a real struggle. Creating a morning routine that gets you moving and exposed to some natural light can help to reduce grogginess and help you wake up.
An example of a great morning routine would be to wake up, take some MitoQ, go on a morning stroll outside, and make a healthy and filling breakfast. Getting outside first thing in the morning gets you exposed to the sun which is a natural alarm clock and an eye-opener. Natural light signals to the brain to wake up and become alert. Staying inside in a dimly lit room is not conducive to waking up and will make it more likely that you try to go back to sleep.
Avoid caffeine late in the day
Caffeine is found in many people’s favorite beverages and foods. Coffee, tea, soda, and even chocolate contain caffeine. While caffeine can provide a short-term boost in energy, it can also hinder one’s ability to get quality sleep.
Caffeine works by blocking the binding of the neurotransmitter adenosine. Adenosine binding is what signals the brain to transition into sleep and when its binding is blocked it can cause people to have a difficult time falling asleep.
Sleep and mental health are closely intertwined. Sleep plays a large role in the proper functioning of the brain. While it is still unclear the exact reason as to why we sleep, it is well understood and established that sleep plays an integral role in the proper functioning of the brain and solid mental wellbeing.
Reviewed by: Kai Man Yuen/ BSc., PGDipSci., MSc.