How Sleep Can Help with Emotional Regulation

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 The average adult needs seven to eight hours of sleep to maintain physical, mental, and emotional health. Sleep deprivation – less than seven hours of rest at night – causes changes in appetite, hormone release, and the ability to solve complex problems. With all the changes that take place in the body during sleep deprivation, it’s no surprise that your moods and ability to regulate your emotions also suffer.

Emotions and Sleep

Eight of ten adults report having sleep problems of some kind. For many people, their sleep disturbances will come and go. Others may find sleep disturbances can be more persistent. An occasional sleepless night, shouldn’t be unexpected. Problems start to arise when sleep deprivation becomes chronic, interfering with the natural sleep-wake cycle.

Lack of sleep can leave you irritable, angry, or more anxious than usual. Stress levels go up as your moods become more negative and difficult to control.  Stress, anxiety, and sleep loss can create a continuing cycle – less sleep leads to more stress, more stress leads to less sleep.

Chronic sleep deprivation, or insomnia, can be the first sign of a more serious problem like depression. Anxiety disorders including panic disorder, are often preceded by a period of sleep loss. Insomnia then continues as the disorder worsen.

How Sleep Can Help

Getting a full night’s rest allows your body the time it needs to cleanse, rejuvenate, and keep itself functioning at its best. During sleep, the brain goes to work cleaning itself of waste that builds up during the day. It prunes and strengthens pathways to keep your thoughts clear and decision-making skills sharp. Without that restoration time, critical thinking skills and reasoning abilities start to decrease. 

As thought processes slow, emotional control and regulation become more difficult. It’s harder to think and act appropriately when the brain hasn’t had time to recharge. And, your thought processes significantly affect your emotional state. Anxiety and depression-related symptoms intensify as emotional regulation deteriorates.

Getting Better (and More) Sleep and Control Over Emotions

Developing the habits for better sleep helps all aspects of your health from appetite control to reaction times. When it comes to emotional regulation, a healthy body working at its best provides the right conditions for a balanced emotional state.

The Right Conditions

High-quality sleep starts with the right conditions. A supportive mattress that’s free from lumps and sagging prevents waking during the night from discomfort as well as reducing aches and pains in the morning. 

The bedroom should also be kept as dark as possible at night. The body uses regular 24-hour cycles called circadian rhythms to control the timing of your sleep-wake cycle. Exposure to light is a primary factor in determining your circadian rhythm. Any light that enters the bedroom at night could disrupt your sleep cycle. Blackout curtains, heavy drapes, and blinds can all help keep your room dark and your sleep cycle regular. 

Your body temperature falls as your body prepares for sleep. To maintain this lowered body temperature, keep the bedroom at a cool 60-68 degrees. If you tend to get hot easily or you experience hot flashes, you may need to keep the temperature even lower.

Relax for Better Sleep and Emotional Health

Beyond the mattress, your bedroom needs to be a sleep sanctuary where you can escape from the stress and pressure of the outside world. Everything from the color of the walls to the sheets on the bed contributes to a relaxed atmosphere in the bedroom. Cool neutrals and pastels in blue and green have been shown to help the mind and body relax. Natural elements like houseplants, photos of nature, and decor pieces inspired by nature can also help bring your brain to a calm state in preparation for sleep.

Related: Can’t Meditate? These Hacks Will Solve That

Even with the right conditions and a relaxing bedroom, it can be tough to get your mind to shut down for the day. If you have trouble, consider:

  • Meditation: Meditation has been shown to reduce stress and even lower the levels of stress-related proteins in the body over time. Mindfulness meditation is often used to treat insomnia because it teaches the practitioner to bring thoughts into the present moment rather than the past or future, which is where your stress exists.

  • Yoga: Like meditation, yoga has been shown to help relax the body, relieve tension, and reduce inflammation. Additionally, a regular yoga routine has been shown to improve mood and perception of well being. There are many types of yoga so be sure to use poses or a routine that’s meant to bring your mind and body to a calm state.

  • Bedtime Routine: Every part of your bedtime routine should help you relax. Routines help the brain and body know when it’s time to release sleep hormones. They can also relieve tension and stress that’s built up throughout the day. Both meditation and yoga have both been shown to be good additions to a bedtime routine, and both can be performed from the comfort of your own bed. Other activities that can help relax you include a warm bath, warm cup of milk, reading a book, or listening to quiet music.

This post was written by Samantha (Sam) Kent. She is a researcher for SleepHelp.org. Her favorite writing topic is how getting enough sleep can improve your life. Currently residing in Boise, Idaho, she sleeps in a California King bed, often with a cat on her face. 

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