Sweet Dreams are Made of This - Sleep and Emotional Stability

{15 minutes to read}

 

It was a relatively calm early evening in New Orleans, several years ago when I lived there. I was in my apartment in the warehouse district feeling incredibly frustrated and irritable - almost aggressively upset. I felt total emotional turmoil at the end of this day. I remember one thing came up - I don't even remember what it was - and I tumbled like a waterfall into a bad place. It was no new problem, but all the individual things started to pile together. It felt like too much and I was so worried and discouraged. 

I decided I'd try to just go to sleep and call it a day. To just shut it down. That there was no need for my negativity to exist in the world right now and that maybe it'd be better for me to just turn it off. Fortunately, I can sleep pretty well through the night once I get there.

Unfortunately, to actually put it down and GO TO BED is fraught with peril, you know what I mean?

According to most people I work with, the hardest part of getting sleep is that moment when they just have to stop watching the Netflix show or stop working and trying to figure everything out in the entire world and just go to bed.

It's because I know this agony very well that I share this article with you. In the course of my psychology and yoga therapy training, I've learned so much about sleep and the brain and I’ve done my research so that you don't have to.

Today I'll share the most interesting things I've learned about what sweet dreams are made of. Who am I to disagree?!

 

What is full sleep?

Maybe you already know that go through stages in a night's sleep - but did you know that REM sleep {rapid eye movement} happens in a 90 minute cycle? That's the deep stuff.

Buzz kill warning - the snooze button doesn't really make us more rested - unless have the chance for a 90 minute cycle. 

When we first start drifting off in stage 1, things slow down as our brain waves begin change from their daytime wakefulness patterns and we get those funny body twitches. In stage 2, things relax further and our brain wave activity goes to slow motion - with brief bursts of electrical activity.  We spend most time in this stage. Then, hopefully, we shift down to a level of deeper sleep, stage 3, and we need this sleep to feel refreshed every morning. Then in the final stage 4, REM happens - this is the big guns - the deep sleep where dreaming happens. Mixed brain wave frequency happens and can actually be similar to what it's like when we're awake - though our muscles are knocked out so that we don't act out dreams.

When we're fully sleeping, the grey matter in our brains kind of shrinks - like a sponge. This allows the cerebral spinal fluid to soak up in there and clean out neurotoxins and things from the day that we don't need to remember and hold on to. Basically, this soak and rinse helps clear the brain of a days work.

 

You'll Sleep when you're dead?

Straight up truth - we're in a silent sleep-loss epidemic and yet exploring the impact of sleep loss is relatively underdone.

The research has found, through neuroimaging studies, that sleep deprivation has an impact on attention and working memory, learning and positive and negative emotion

Sleep-loss has a huge impact on how we think and feel. I think we take this for granted.

This evidence shows that negative changes in thinking and feeling are associated with sleep disruption.The research also provides a lot of insight into the diseases that this can cause. Sleep disruption is an under appreciated factor.

Incomplete deep sleep has been shown to play a role in sustaining negative mood states.  One night of sleep loss increases subjective reports of stress, anxiety and anger in response to even low-stress situations and increases impulsivity towards negative stimuli by 60%. That's huge!

So not only are we unable to shake our bad mood, but we're more likely to provoke it or get into rubs that make our situation even worse.

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There are changes in our brain while we're experiencing an emotional event and sleep loss further alters the anticipation of impending emotional experiences. 

I remember the experiences around that time in the crescent city when I was sleep deprived. I had been going through a depressing breakup, my dear Mom's decade of chronic pain of 10 years was worsening and she was bed ridden...and the list of "life stuff" goes on. In a time when I needed sleep, my stress was obscuring that possibility.

And lacking the sleep I needed made it much harder to manage my emotions. I found myself reacting to people in my life in moments that I wouldn't have otherwise, and I found it impossible to feel compassion for others. Pretty much all I was doing was looking for more things that were wrong and expecting more physical and emotional pain.

Lack of sleep causes us to struggle more emotionally and is a predictor for conditions like subjective anxiety. Studies show that we need 7-9 hours per night to stay healthy

The good news? This is something we can do something about. It may not always seem like it, but sleep is a treatable target. 

 

sleep and emotional stability

Full sleep is crucial to help stabilize and support mental and emotional health and without sleep emotional circuits become hyperactive and irrational.

Over and over in the studies, sleep loss has been associated with irritability and emotional volatility. The brain's ability to generate, regulate and be guided by emotions is a fundamental process governing our personal lives and our mental health.

I found it fascinating that all mood and anxiety disorders happen with a sleep problem. And even with our mental health, if we don't get full sleep - we become surprisingly pendulum like in our emotions.

As I remember the grim time when I eventually decided to just shut myself down like a computer, I recall once feeling pretty happy {almost giddy} during the day, and then suddenly I was dreading a million things. I went from sadness to hope and back to despair. My mind kept racing from one thing to the next and overall seeing it in a negative light. 

It was like having all gas pedal and no brake. 

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I was relieved to learn the facts and to know that it’s not just me! I can now be proudly protective of my 8 hours of sleep.

Restricting sleep to only 5 hours a night across a 1-week period led to a progressive increase in emotional disturbance in participants - in other words - emotional difficulties get worse and worse when we don't put our sleep first.

It's safe to say, that focusing on sleep should be the number one, first step that we can take preventatively AND especially when we're going through a hard time in our lives. 

Poor sleep and feelings of anxiety and depression can be helped.

 

Sleep Hygiene and meditation - they really help

Now, I know that when we go through the ringer in our lives that nighttime can be the craziest time of all. I've been there and I know it can be a sad time, or a time when all the thinking and replaying happens. I know it's a time when real, raw feelings come up.

And getting a good nights sleep is easier said than done, right?

Sleeping pills {melatonin excluded} don't give the brain the same type of sleep that it needs to push the reset button, and nonpharmacological treatments have advantages over pharmacotherapy in that they are effective at improving sleep in the short and long term - with no dangers. 

There are easy things we can do naturally and effectively - a little sleep hygiene and meditation.

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NATURAL REMEDIES

   

1. Black out blinds

The pineal gland in the skull is sensitive to light, even with covered eyes. The whole body responds to light versus darkness - even the endocrine system and organs. Respect your circadian rhythm.

2. Be a side-sleeper.

It's been shown that in this position, the brainwash {i.e. cerebral spinal fluid cleanse} happens most effectively. 

3. Meditation before bed

3. Evening ritual of self care

Something that helps you shift from all gas to some brake. A bath, for example.

I know from personal experience that it's hard when we're feeling emotionally unsettled.

"You'll feel better in the morning" is what they say, and it's true - to some extent. Giving my brain what it needs to process and manage my emotions is definitely helpful - AND - certain emotions will persist until I look at them and understand them.

That's why I think meditation is so powerful and necessary in today's day and age where we're pretty disconnected from the natural rhythm of things and we have so much going on in our world to process. 

In this study published in the National Institute of Health, several doctors found that mindful awareness practices interventions showed the highest improvement in 6 weeks, relative to the sleep hygiene education intervention. 

Sleep hygiene helps - and meditation can help even more.

I believe we each really need to have a personal mindfulness practice in order to handle the emotional overwhelm that comes with anxiety and worry - whether it's situational or chronic. As an added bonus {thanks nature!} it's been proven that positive mood states enhance sleep. So, when we do a practice to ground and nurture our mood - we get better sleep. 

I understand that you have to really be feeling symptoms in order to take action, that sometimes it just has to get bad enough for it to suddenly be imperative. And if you're reading this and you're at that point - start here.

If you want to use meditation to sleep better - start with Aura app. There are hundreds of thousands of people out there just like you that have been using short practices for that - and seeing results. My channel, Mindful Moments, includes practices to help you get full and deep sleep. 

 

With Love,

Lauren