How Sleep Enhances Mood, Memory and Performance
By Mar De Carlo
In addition to regular exercise and proper nutrition, having consistent quality sleep with the right amount of sleep is vital for our overall health and wellbeing. Sleep is essential for optimal human function and plays an important role in learning, memory, mood, and performance. The average person needs seven to eight hours of quality sleep each night in order to maintain optimal mental and physical health.
While we sleep, our brains and bodies never do. Previously thought of as merely rest or something you can get away with not having much of, it now is clear that sleep has some very critical functions. When you sleep, your body undergoes a series of stages and cycles that facilitates the regeneration that is necessary to support your overall health.
Sleep supports healthy brain function by processing information and forming new pathways. Sleep aids in the consolidation of experiences into memories and neural pathways which is essential for memory and learning.
Sleep and mood are also closely related. Good sleep contributes to a good mood. Poor sleep, on the other hand, can significantly alter your mood; diminishing your ability to cope with stress and as a result increase negative moods such as anger, frustration, irritability, anxiety and depression. In addition, lack of sleep can increase the risk of, and may even play a part in, developing some mood disorders.
How well you physically perform when you are awake is dependent on how well you sleep. Sleep has a positive effect on speed, accuracy, and reaction time. This is because sleep allows your heart and vascular system to rest and activates the release of growth-producing hormones, which builds muscle mass and repair cells and tissues in your body. As a result, it strengthens your immune system, preventing you from getting sick or helping you recover quicker when you are sick.
Why is it so hard for most people to get a good night’s sleep?
There are many reasons why it is so hard for most people to get a good night’s sleep. Two main categories:
First: Environmental and social conditions that began as early as the 17th century but became prominent through the industrial revolution and the introduction of artificial light. These conditions include: light, noise, temperature, air quality, bedding and technology.
Second: Health and lifestyle behaviors inhibiting sleep such as suboptimal breathing, nutritional deficiencies, stress (body is in constant fight or flight), sedentary, cultural attitudes and beliefs of work hard/play hard, lack of routine, nervous system dysregulation and emotional dysregulation.
What can we do about it?
A few tips you can start with to begin your journey toward optimal sleep and healthy living:
Change your perspective and attitude towards sleep. Begin by embracing your sleep challenge and taking a deep open curious interest to learn more about how you function. Your body is essentially a home that needs maintenance to perform at its best. Your sleep challenge is significantly an opportunity to turn your quality of life around for the better.
Become aware of the way you breathe and begin incorporating daily short breathing exercises which I call “daily pauses” that include slowing down your breath, breathing through your nose and diaphragmatic breathing. The way you breathe impacts your nervous system and quality of sleep.
Increase bright light (sunlight) exposure during the day, ideally in the morning and reduce artificial light exposure in the evening by dimming lights, cutting lights down in half. throughout the home and removing screen time 30 minutes to one hour before bed.
Evaluate your food, drink, supplement and medication intake with a nutritionist or doctor to see if any of them may be inhibiting your sleep.
Increase activity level daily, especially if sedentary. Many studies have shown that proper exercise improves sleep and alleviates sleep related issues.
Lastly, incorporate an emotional outlet to process and regulate your emotions on a consistent basis. This can include writing in a journal, belonging to a positive support group or engaging in a creative activity like an improv or dancing class.