WARNING: Inadequate Sleep Can Set You Up for Stress and Mood Disorders

Irritable? Stressed? Depressed?

Skimping on your 8 hours of sleep at night can leave you unable to cope with daily stresses.

Skimping on your 8 hours of sleep at night can leave you unable to cope with daily stresses.

Are you getting enough sleep at night?

The two may be more related than you think.

Way back in 1997, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania limited study participants to 4.5 hours of sleep per night, then monitored their moods over the course of  a week. Subjects became stressed, experienced negative moods like anger and sadness, and were exhausted both physically and mentally.

When these subjects were finally allowed to go back to their normal amount of sleep, their moods improved dramatically.

While this may not be a surprise to you — you’ve likely experienced the effect for yourself after a night of gaming or watching movies until the wee hours and being barely functional the next day — the truth is, most of us still don’t get enough sleep.

In fact, the CDC calls it a “public health epidemic” and notes that insufficient sleep can lead to car crashes, industrial accidents, and dangerous mistakes made in health and other occupations.

So what’s a geek to do? There just isn’t enough time in the day to get everything done AND sleep the recommended 8 hours…is there?

Make Sleep a Priority

The first thing to do if you frequently find yourself tired and moody is to rearrange your priorities a bit. It can seem impossible to get enough sleep with so much work/play to do — but getting plenty of sleep can actually make you more productive, allowing you to fit all of those things into a normal day.

If you find yourself putting off bedtime, try to keep these sleep benefits in mind:

  • Sleep causes slightly more plasticity (connections between nerve cells) than double the exposure to experience. This means that (for example) students learn better if they study until tired and then sleep, rather than pulling an all-nighter.
  • REM sleep is essential for decision-making and for learning procedural tasks, such as playing a new musical instrument.
  • Didn’t get enough sleep last night? An afternoon nap could help you make up for it. Taking a quick snooze can help you improve your mental performance and alertness.

Make Friends with Your Bed

Okay, but what if you suffer from insomnia, or frequently find it hard to get your brain to “shut down” so you can drift off to dreamland?

Practicing some good nightly habits and routines can make a huge difference.

First, keep to a regular sleep-wake schedule (this one’s key for freelancers and other work from home types). Instead of working until your eyes won’t stay open anymore and falling into bed at different hours every night, try setting a regular bedtime and wake time, and stick to them.

You can also help yourself out by getting plenty of light exposure during the day, then limiting your light exposure in the evening. This will help signal your brain that it’s time to start winding down.

Make your bedroom sleep-friendly by ensuring it’s dark at night (you might have to employ some heavy curtains if there’s a pesky streetlight outside your window). Removing the TV or computer from your bedroom can also help your brain associate the space with sleep, instead of stimulation.

Finally, avoid eating and drinking too close to bedtime, and don’t take a nap just a couple hours before you’re going to go to bed.

With enough sleep, you’ll feel more alert and be able to get more done during the day — which means more time for your favorite geeky endeavors in the evening.

So make friends with your pillow, and sweet dreams!

Do you get enough sleep every night? Feel consistently drowsy/irritable/depressed AND only get a few hours of sleep every night? Try sleeping at least 8 hours for a week — and let me know how it goes in the comments!


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