How Sleep Deprivation Impacts Mental Health – Why Our Brains Need Sleep

Posted on April 6, 2023

depressed man suffering from sleep deprivation

Sleep is fuel for your brain in the same way that gas is fuel for your car. When we have enough we can get where we’re going. However, without enough sleep, we make little progress. Simply put, without enough restful sleep, our minds begin to slow down and we can’t operate at our full potential.

Sleep and The Brain

Sleep is critical for many brain functions. It maintains our cognitive skills — attention, learning, and memory — and prepares us for tomorrow. Sleep boosts our concentration, creativity, and emotional regulation, so there is a genuine reason that you should “sleep on it” sometimes.

Sleep deficiency can cause problems with learning, focus, creativity, decision-making, problem-solving, and memory. You may take longer to finish tasks, react more slowly, and make more mistakes. Fortunately, these short-term issues are easily resolved by getting a good night’s rest. However, the consequences of long-term sleep deprivation can be severe.

Sleep and Emotions

Evidence consistently shows that healthy sleep is associated with better mood, improved productivity, and even satisfaction with life. Happiness and good sleep are closely linked in a positive feedback cycle — people feel happier when they have a good night’s sleep, and people who are happier tend to sleep better.

There is a biological reason that people who don’t get a good night’s sleep are often more sensitive, easily irritated, or impulsive. The amygdala is the area of the brain that handles emotional responses. Most of its processing happens when we sleep. The prefrontal cortex helps us control impulses and regulate emotions. Without enough sleep, the amygdala becomes overactive, and communication with the prefrontal cortex is disrupted, making us more impulsive and less likely to react logically. We become more susceptible to mood swings and have increased emotional reactions.

Poor sleep can also make it difficult to cope with the minor stresses of daily life without feeling frazzled or frustrated. “Brain fog” — difficulty concentrating or feeling confused — can make it hard to be productive and easy to be overwhelmed if you haven’t had a full night’s sleep.

Sleep and Physical Health

Sleep plays an important role in your physical health. It helps you heal and grow, balances brain chemistry, helps manage blood sugar, boosts the immune system, and decreases the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and stroke. Sleep allows your brain to cleanse itself of toxins that build up while you are awake.

Sleep and Psychological Health

Extreme sleep deprivation can cause temporary psychotic symptoms. People who go 24 hours without sleep may experience hallucinations and perceptual changes. Those who go 60 hours will probably experience both hallucinations and delusions.

How Much Sleep Do We Need?

Experts say that the average adult needs between 7-9 hours of sleep per day. Children and teens need significantly more. We spend about 2 hours every night dreaming, even though most dreams are not remembered. The true purpose of dreaming isn’t known, but experts think it helps process emotions. People suffering from stress or anxiety are more likely to have frightening dreams.

How Does Sleep Deprivation Affect Our Overall Mental Health?

When we sleep, the brain “recharges” — incorporating fresh memories and processing new information, storing them properly for future use. These processes can be disrupted, which is why we become forgetful when we are sleep deprived.

Our brains produce many hormones that regulate appetite, weight, mood, immunity, growth, healing, and more. Sleep deprivation affects our hormone-producing system and knocks us out of balance. Our adrenal glands overproduce the hormone cortisol (a part of our natural “fight or flight” response), keeping our bodies in a constant state of stress. Sleep deprivation and stress can easily become a negative feedback loop leading to mood, anxiety, and depressive disorders.

Current research suggests sleep problems may raise the risk of developing psychiatric disorders like anxiety and depression. Sleep disorders are more common among those with mental health issues, and can worsen mental illness and make it harder to cope with symptoms.

Ways To Improve Sleep Quality

Here are a few simple things that can help improve sleep quality:

  • Keep a consistent sleep schedule, waking up and going to bed at about the same time every day
  • Set a bedtime that allows you to get at least 7 hours of sleep
  • Establish a relaxing bedtime routine
  • If you can’t get to sleep, get out of bed and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy
  • Create a healthy sleep environment — keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and cool
  • Limit electronics in your bedroom — avoid using your smartphone or tablet
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine late in the day
  • Limit naps

Treatment For Sleep Deprivation

People suffering from chronic sleep difficulties should seek professional help, whether from a sleep specialist or therapist. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) is a recognized treatment for insomnia, and there are many other treatments available depending on your needs.

Overall, experts believe that healthy sleep patterns are essential for keeping your brain healthy and well-functioning.

Why Choose Rising Phoenix?

Rising Phoenix Wellness Services is a licensed mental health and substance use disorder Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) in Scottsdale, Arizona. We created our addiction and mental health treatment program to offer a safe, welcoming, and nurturing environment where clients are embraced, not judged, throughout their recovery process.

We offer programming that is based on Integrity, Innovation, Confident Humility, and Mindful Leadership. Our Mission is to help people recognize the unique value of their life and improve their overall health and wellness.

Ready to get started?

Toll-Free Call

100% Confidential