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How Sleep Impacts Your Mental Health

Many of us don't fully understand how lack of sleep can impact our mental health. (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

Many of us don’t fully understand the impact that not getting enough sleep has on our mental health. (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

In recent years, research teams around the world have found numerous ways in which sleep impacts our bodies and our physical health.  This ever-expanding understanding of how sleep impacts our overall health shows how skewed our attitudes about sleep have become.  We are always ready to sacrifice it to work, play, chores, obligations, and television.  We continue to see sacrificing sleep as a noble act, something to take pride in and to emulate, rather than seeing it for what it is – a one-way ticket to poor health.

As more and more information comes to light about how sleep, and the lack of it, impacts our physical well-being, the obvious conclusion is that not getting the sleep we need must also impact our mental health.   In order to get a real understanding of what you are giving up when you sacrifice sleep, here are some of the ways that lack of sleep impacts your mental health.


1.     It Lowers Your Ability to Deal with Stress

On a normal day, you probably sit in traffic just as long, deal with rude people just as often, and run just as late, but when you are sleep deprived, each of these situations can feel ten times worse because your ability to deal with stress decreases when you are overtired.  Now, consider what that means if the reason you are sleep deprived is because you stayed up studying for a test or finalizing a presentation that you must now give at a time when your ability to handle the added stress is significantly lowered.  Viewed this way, it is easy to understand why researchers have found that staying up to study the night before a test can actually result in a worse score than not studying at all.


2.     It Impairs Your Memory

Although there are many open questions about what is happening in our brains while we are sleeping, one thing we do know is that there is a connection between deep sleep and memory retention.  Experts believe that during the deepest stages of sleep, our brains are building new connections and storing new memories.  When we don’t get the sleep we need, our brains cannot perform these important functions and information and experiences are lost or misfiled, making it difficult or impossible to retrieve them when they are needed.


3.     It Makes it Difficult to Concentrate

Lack of sleep decreases your overall alertness.  This is one of the reasons that drowsy driving is so dangerous.  Decreased alertness impacts our ability to focus, which can make concentrating almost impossible.  It is difficult to see how we could be performing anywhere near our potential if we cannot focus, concentrate, or remain awake during important moments.   Worse yet, lack of sleep can make us overestimate how well we are doing or how productive we are.  This means that we think we are functioning well when we may actually be barely scraping by.


4.     It Stifles Creativity

Experts believe that sleep deprivation also impacts our ability to think creatively.  This only further impacts our ability to excel at work, at school, or in any area of our life that requires these kinds of cognitive functions.


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