For a lot of us, it feels like no matter how hard we try, we can never get the sleep we need. Whether it’s work, play, family, or school, our lives always seem to be more important than nabbing that crucial shut-eye. We’re always trying to find new ways to combat our exhaustion; many of us turn to coffee or energy drinks for a quick fix, attempting to keep ourselves going when we’re inevitably running low on energy. Those quick fixes can work in a pinch, giving us the physical boost we need to make it through soccer practice or choir rehearsal or a long day at work. But we never stop to think about how this lack of sleep can affect our mental health.
According to NAMI, more than one-third of Americans report difficulty sleeping. This lack of sleep can contribute to a number of negative effects on our bodies. Some of the physical effects we can experience include:
- Weakened immune system
- Higher blood pressure
- Weight gain
- Increased susceptibility to cold and flu
- Increased risk of heart disease
But while the physical impacts on our bodies are common knowledge, the mental effects are not as widely known.
The biggest impact of sleep deprivation is exhaustion, both physical and mental. Without sleep, our brains don’t function properly, and we can experience difficulty concentrating, as well as a lessened ability to learn. Sleep also affects us emotionally – when you’re not getting enough shut-eye, you’re more likely to be irritable, angry, and even depressed. Your usual chipper self will have a hard time making an appearance if you’re not hitting the pillow for seven to nine hours a night.
Sleep deprivation is so common among Americans that it’s hard to know when lack of sleep is just a phase, or when it has become a symptom of a mental health problem. Difficulty sleeping is often one of the first symptoms of depression. Also, those diagnosed with insomnia are more likely to develop major depression or an anxiety disorder later on in life.
So how do we combat this lack of sleep?
- Treat your shut-eye as if it’s as important as eating three square meals a day, or getting the kids to the big game on time.
- Ditch the afternoon java. Did you know caffeine can impact your body for up to 12 hours after you’ve consumed it?
- Set a bedtime for yourself each night, and stick to it! Catching up on that episode of "Game of Thrones" can wait until tomorrow.
- Stop using electronics an hour before you want to fall asleep – the light from digital devices can make it more difficult to get rest. You can check your Instagram feed in the morning!
For those of you who have experienced insomnia, what has worked to help you get a better night’s sleep? Share in the comments below!