Posted on April 4, 2014 by Emily Roberts MA, LPC
This is your wake-up call – literally. Running on too little sleep can have detrimental effects on your mind, body, and brain. For years we have known that sleep deprivation was bad for our mental and physical health and now more alarming research has linked lack of sleep to higher stress, low self-esteem, physical health issues, and even brain damage.
Sleep deprivation wears down our normal capacity to deal with daily aggravations and challenges, causing the cycle of stress to wear us down. One night of disrupted sleep lowers the threshold for “stress perception.” When you’re dead tired, or have had weeks of restless nights, just running an errand or responding to another email is overwhelming. Frustration and feeling frazzled makes you less capable and less effective in your day to day groove.
Even more concerning is how it affects one’s brain over time. A study published this week in the Journal of Neuroscience found that staying awake kills brain cells in mice, and researchers suggest it may do the same in humans. It’s the first study to show that sleep loss can lead to irreversible damage.
For many Americans it’s nearly impossible to get enough sleep. Not just because they can’t find the time, but their brains don’t shut off once they hit the sheets. Over-thinking about the day, being alone with your thoughts, and dreading another sleepless night or morning of grogginess all adds to the mix. Stress and hectic schedules make it hard to get the zzz one needs. Over time, cortisol elevations cause shifts in other hormones (such as DHEA, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone) as well depletion in neurotransmitters availability. This often leads to sleep cycle disturbances, which then causes more stress on the body and the cycle continues.
The Connection Between Self-Esteem and Sleep
Sleep deprivation increases your odds of feeling overly sensitive. The friend that doesn’t text back for hours may start to get under your skin, leading to feelings of fear or frustration, and more self-doubt. Add in more nights of sub-par sleep and you’re set up to feel less connected to yourself, your goals, and more sensitive to the outside world.
Irritability becomes more prevalent. You have less patience for people, situations, and often act out or get angry at yourself for feelings frustration. Increased depression or sadness can develop with lack of sleep which often contributes to low self-esteem. Those who are already depressed or have other underlying mental health disorders may find those problems exacerbated by lack of sleep.
Relationship problems with friends or family can be challenged by lack of sleep. Letting little things get to you amplifies emotions that you normally would push away, making you less happy with yourself and a partner, which can create a major hit to your confidence.
7 Ways to get Good Sleep and Improve Self-Esteem
1. Incorporate more breaks for mindfulness and gentle exercise to get your brain “reset.” When you do this, the noise in your mind isn’t as amplified at night. It may seem “impossible” to break away from the daily grind but 5-10 minutes here and there have been shown to recharge your brain.
2. Do any amount of mindfulness meditation every day. This can simply be sitting and observing your thoughts with a compassionate, non-judgmental attitude. HeadSpace and Zencast are websites that walk you through it.
3. Decrease caffeine as it exacerbates anxiety and can create disturbances in your sleep patterns. If you drink coffee, tea, or soda and you have anxiety, consider getting off caffeine or stopping before noon. Coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks and chocolate, remain in the body on average from three to five hours but they can affect some people up to 12 hours later. Even if you do not think caffeine affects you, it may be disrupting and changing the quality of your sleep. If you need a pick me up around 3:00 p.m., refuel with food to bring your blood sugar back to normal.
4. Wind down for one hour before bedtime. Ideally this would be unplugged, restorative time (e.g., relaxed reading, bath, or mediation practice) – something to induce the relaxation response. Sleep meditations are all over YouTube and can be listened to as you are lying in bed. Listen to a guided sleep mediation or hypnosis on YouTube or soothing music. Don’t use electronics, even the Nook, an hour before bed.
5. Avoid TV, phone, tablet, emails, Netflix, Hulu, your Instagram feed, and video games in bed. The light and the activity stimulates neurotransmitter activity. Falling asleep with the TV on will disrupt your sleep cycle.
6. Keep a worry journal next to your bed (pad of paper with a pen). If you have trouble falling asleep due to racing thoughts, write them down, thank your mind for reminding you about it, and tell your brain that you will address it tomorrow.
7. Make your room hibernation friendly. A cool, cozy, and dark room makes your body go into hibernation mode. Make sure your bedroom is quiet and your comforters are comfy to help you feel relaxed when you climb into bed.
The more consistent your sleep cycle is the better you will feel. Don’t try and catch up on the weekend, which will just make it harder to adjust come Monday. Do try and keep your bedtime and wake time consistent. Keep track of your sleep cycle to see how you are doing and share with your doctor if you are having trouble.
How do you get a good night’s sleep? Have you noticed that disrupted sleep has hurt your self-esteem or made you more stressed? Comment on what has and hasn’t worked for you.