Photo By Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels
Column By Beatrice Potter
Sleeping, along with eating and excreting, is one of those absolutely fundamental bodily functions that are vital for human beings to survive. People aren’t built to last longer than a certain period of time without sleep, and the few times that a bold experimenter has pushed the limits, it has usually ended in disaster, often leaving them permanently affected by the experience. Lack of sleep has obvious effects and less obvious effects, depending on the individual and the extent to the deprivation. Many of the less obvious effects are to do with mental health. So let’s examine some of the negative side-effects of sleep deprivation or sleep problems on mental health.
Assessing the extremes
Normally when we talk about someone being sleep deprived, we’re talking about a colleague who stayed out a bit late the night before or a friend whose kids kept them up all night playing video games too loudly. It’s a one-off situation that is unfortunate but very minor in its severity and easy to remedy. At the extreme end of sleep deprivation, we find an altogether different story. The few times when it has been really tested, extreme sleep deprivation, meaning more than three days without a wink, is calamitous for mental health. Those who have attempted long bouts of deprivation will experience a range of symptoms from major psychotic episodes, to full-on hallucinations, waking dreams, massive blackouts, etc. In some very unfortunate cases, those people have gone on to have problems with sleep and with mental health for the rest of their lives. It’s a sad testament to the absolutely vital nature of sleep and just how little deprivation it takes before the human brain starts malfunctioning.
Sleeping during the day
Sometimes sleep deprivation can have a somewhat more obscure route towards damaging your mental health. In this instance, it can affect your sleep pattern by encouraging you to make up for lost time. If your life allows it, particularly if you are a college student or something of that ilk, you might think that a rough night’s sleep can be replaced by a day’s sleep. A once in a while day nap is not such a bad thing, particularly if you have engagements during the evening that you want to be in good form for. However, sleeping during the day often is not a good idea, as it can both be a symptom and a cause of depression. The first thing worth pointing out is that being awake during daylight hours and asleep at night is a fundamental element to human existence. “There’s flexibility, but there are also reams of data about the increased cases of seasonal depressive disorders in countries that get many fewer hours of daylight during the winter (like many northern countries in Europe),” says Adam Trevis, a health writer at PaperFellows and Thesis Writing. Being in bed in the day also cuts down on your ability to interact with other people. This sort of isolation is also not conducive to fending off depression.
Waking up on the wrong side of the bed
To take a departure from the really serious effects of sleep deprivation, there are some more mundane effects to consider which, if not addressed, can spawn some deeper problems. The first thing worth noting is that it’s always clear when a friend hasn’t had a good night’s sleep. They often look physically tired, but there’s also a distinct grouchiness, a ‘low mood’ that is triggered by not having fully recharged overnight. The second thing is that they might not seem on top of their game in the office. They might be working slowly or making rudimentary mistakes. And that’s because, as well as impacting your mood, a single bad night’s sleep noticeably affects cognitive functioning and performance. People’s productivity can drop which can, if left unaddressed, cause long term problems with their work which can have big impacts on mental health as job stress and anxiety become a factor. “If someone is always in a grouchy mood from not having enough sleep that will similarly impact their ability to conduct themselves in a professional context which could also lead to the same sorts of professional problems and doubts. The day to day is affected by the night to night. If you aren’t recharging effectively at night, then your ability to get on with things on a daily basis is impaired as well,” explains Veronica Hust, a journalist at Boomessays and StateOfWriting.
One of the most damaging aspects of sleep deprivation on the mind is one of its least apparent. Alzheimer’s, a degenerative mental disorder affecting memory and functionality, is caused by amyloid plaques, build-ups of the protein beta amyloid. There are proven studies that show that a single night of restlessness leads to an increase in beta amyloid in the brain, leading to the conclusion that extended bouts of sleep deprivation can greatly increase the likelihood of Alzheimer’s later in life.
Overall, there’s a lot to be said for ensuring that you secure yourself a good night’s sleep as often as you possibly can. Aside from all of the ways that failing to do so can affect mental health, it’s also just a nice feeling to be refreshed each morning and not dragging yourself out of bed.