Sleep – The secret steroid of well-being

March 6, 2020

The relationship between sleep and mood is complex, because disrupted sleep can often lead to emotional changes and from this, other diagnosed mental health conditions. Altered sleep patterns are a hallmark sign of many mental health issues, but to me this begs the question, what comes first, poor sleep or poor mental health?

The link between sleep and mood has been heavily researched by psychologists and doctors. It is known that people with poor sleep have greater chances of developing depression and anxiety related symptoms than those who sleep normally, however it quickly becomes a, ‘chicken or the egg’ scenario as all the research points to the fact the two are closely intertwined.

So, how much is enough?

It is widely known that to be ‘functional’, the average person needs 7-9 hours of sleep a night, despite many stubborn individuals persisting that they can get by on 6 or less. From the research done by genetics specialist Ying-Hui Fu at the University of San Francisco, only 5% of people can function to an appropriate capacity on 6 hours of sleep a night and only 1% can function on 4 or less…95% of us do need the standard 7-9 hours.

As well as leading to emotional changes and poor cognitive performance, poor sleep can exacerbate other factors leading to the detriment of our physical and mental well-being. Consistently poor sleep affects our bodies capability to recover from physical and mental stress, directly leading to lower energy levels. This stand-alone symptom isn’t necessarily the problem – it’s the gateway to a poor diet, lack of exercise and lack of social interaction that naturally occurs from a lack of energy.  These three factors (diet, exercise, social interaction) are arguably the most influential things in improving the quality our sleep, let alone our overall well-being, but the quick fixes of fast food and time on the sofa despite being necessary at times, aren’t always the way to improve our well-being in the long-term.

The quick and easy solution may seem to sacrifice your sleep to manage a work-load and catch up on your “sleep debt” later. This is possible, although it’s not quite as simple as ‘having a lie in’. A study done by Harvard Medical School came to the conclusion that a loss of 10 hours of sleep over a weeks period takes approximately another week to recover from, by adding three to four extra sleep hours on the weekend and an extra hour or two per night the following week. In the long term, where sleep deprivation could have been over several weeks, it’s extremely important to avoid any further sleep debt over the period where you’re trying to recover. Do your best to have a longer restful period where you are at low stress, and your obligations will not disrupt your ability to go to bed when you feel tired and able to sleep until you naturally wake.

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