The purpose of this post is to understand how our emotional well being is both a cause and effect of our sleep. Put simply, our emotions, which we have no control over, by the way, respond directly to our sleeping habits and vise versa. I wholeheartedly believe that sleep should be the most respected aspect of your life. Let’s take a deeper dive into why that is…
First we are going to talk about
- Why good sleep is vital to your emotional and physical wellbeing?
- How a bad night’s sleep affects your body and brain?
- What you can do to improve your sleep patterns?
Firstly I want to start off by saying that I am in no way a sleep expert but the research and resources I curated from my information gathering can be found here.
Okay, so why does sleep have a vital impact on our emotional and physical wellbeing? Well, we first have to look at how we sleep and what do each of the sleep functions do for our brains. We have something called the circadian rhythm, which has been discussed plenty in this world and this is also what most people reach for when trying to answer themselves, or someone else, why should I sleep now?
What we don’t usually hear about is the sleep-wake homeostasis mechanism. This mechanism is simply a tracker that gathers all your daily fuckery like your existing medical conditions, medications, stress, sleep environment, what you eat and drink, and most importantly how much light you are exposed to each day. It then takes all these inputs and plugs it into your giant grey goo machine up in your cranium so it can figure out how much non-REM vs REM sleep you need for the night.
How do these two mechanisms work together?
You see it’s simple, if you’ve ever worked the night shift or worked on a project through the night or just stayed up through the night, you’ve likely experienced your circadian rhythm being out of sync. When one of us fools decides to work, on anything, through the night, your biological circadian rhythm is being disrupted and your sleep-wake cycle is being taken into a cage match. You’ve wanted to sleep while working and you probably found it hard to sleep after you’ve won that inner cage match and tirelessly suffered through the night. Our body sends out signals throughout each day, when our body doesn’t signal the decrease of cortisol production, you know your body circadian rhythm is off.
Something has gone out of wack and your body doesn’t know what to do. So, you feel sleepless, wide-awake right at the time you usually go to bed. This is the basic experience you can use to understand how these two mechanisms work hand-in-hand. Now, let’s get into the inner workings of how a bad night’s sleep can take your body and mind on an unstable loopy loop rollercoaster.
How much respect should you give your sleep?
I’m sure we all know the importance of sleep. I for one did a little research on it while I was in college and never really dove deep into the literature and never took the time to actually, dedicate and respect my sleep and its seemingly invisible effects. I remember nights working late on a Solidworks design project, working well through the night on solidifying the design for this specific project. I remember it taking a huge toll on my emotional well being at the time.
I felt numb through the night, I was easily irritable during the day, I seemed to be a ticking time bomb of anger throughout the day. I remember whimsically asking myself the next morning if I was capable of finishing the project in a few hours the next morning after a good nights sleep and seemingly answering myself with some bullshit rationale like, oh no my morning is usually pretty busy with stuff but I never really gave the ‘stuff’ a chance to be broken down. Deep down, I knew that my mornings could be unproductive sometimes but more times then not they were productive. Through the night I was focused but very unproductive for the 9 hours I spent. I later learned about Parkinson’s law where it states that work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion, but that is for a later episode where I dive deeper into productivity. I continued my days without ever thinking of how this impacted my well-being and more importantly why I chose to suffer through that inner cage match with my sleep-wake mechanism.
In an article written by the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School:
Studies have shown that even partial sleep deprivation has a significant effect on mood. University of Pennsylvania researchers found that subjects who were limited to only 4.5 hours of sleep a night for one week reported feeling more stressed, angry, sad, and mentally exhausted.
WOW…If only I started doing this during my undergrad *SMH*
My Typical Morning Routine
First, I ask myself,
- What did I do before sleeping last night?
- How do I feel now That I’ve woken up? Do I feel well-rested, do I feel thirsty, hungry, do I feel like a sack of potatoes?
- How do I want to feel when I wake up every morning?
- What can I do now that will help shift my mood from a negative towards a neutral frame?
Now my suggestion is you try some of these out for a few mornings. They might or might not work for you but I can guarantee you that if you don’t try anything you won’t know anything. I write these down somewhere so I don’t have to remember them. I leave them within arms reach and take the time to HONESTLY, answer myself.
Something I do now that has helped improve the quality of my mornings dramatically is not looking at my phone first thing. I have a rule set up for myself where the first 30 minutes of my morning is dedicated to ME, myself, and I. NOBODY GETS TO HAVE ME EVERY SINGLE MORNING. NO ATTENTION AND FOCUS IS GIVEN anywhere but to ME.
I start every morning by brewing some coffee and reading something that’s not on my phone but more importantly, I do not set a timer for myself. Because I know that my phone is a black hole waiting to just suck up as much of my time as possible. I just do not allow myself to be near my phone after I’ve turned off my sleep tracker. I will not allow my phone to fuck me. Only I’m allowed to do that. I would suggest you try a few things every morning while you’re getting started and see which activities elicit a more powerful response. Once you’ve found your pleasurable morning activities, simply make it a habit. Start your day in that place.
How can you make it a habit, well you’ll have to stay tuned for a later post where I explore the power of habits and how you can use a simple guide to hack your productivity. Let’s jump into the last part of this episode where I explain a detailed and simple method on how you can start sleeping better and waking up much more easily.
Not only does sleep affect mood, but mood and mental states can also affect sleep. Anxiety increases agitation and arousal, which make it hard to sleep. Stress also affects sleep by making the body aroused, awake, and alert. People who are under constant stress or who have abnormally exaggerated responses to stress tend to have sleep problems.
Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School
Sleep is a two-way street. If you’re neglecting your emotional well-being through the day and are reactive to everything around you, your sleep quality will suffer. SHIT HAPPENS. Let that shit happen and let it go. Move on with your life.
With this newfound understanding about how we end our days can have a tremendous effect on our morning let us give a little tribute to our old sleeping patterns and habits. Wish them good health and wealth and chuck them from your life because you’re only being robbed of sleep quality. I used to end my nights with my phone in my hand or my laptop in my lap, covered under my sheets with a memory foam pillow supporting my oblong-shaped head. Over time I noticed a pattern starting to emerge in my sleep quality. I would wake up more often throughout the night. I would find it harder to fall back asleep when I would wake up. I would wake up every morning groggy headed, my muscles would feel tense and sore. It would take me 30 mins to an hour sometimes more, to just get out of bed.
I looked back, uttered to myself that this was not a way to live a fulfilling life, and chucked these old habits out the window while driving down the highway at 78 mph. If I wanted to improve the quality of my sleep, I need to improve the quality of my time before and after sleep. This realization came to me when I read this quote,
“You are only entitled to the action, never to its fruits”
How did I figure out where to start
To break this down for you, we are what we do, not the results or what we want to achieve. I finally came to the conclusion that my screen time before bed and after bed were the bottlenecks of my sleep quality and my resulting mood for the day.
I gave it a try but I also wanted to have data for my sleep quality, so I found this app called SLEEP CYCLE available on IOS and Google play store. It has many functions but the main reason I use it is to monitor my breathing throughout the night to ultimately have it calculate a total sleep quality. I wanted to start seeing measurable differences in my mood and my sleep quality. I wanted to see if there was a correlation as they say in all the sciencey stuff. This was measurable.
So, I started using it and found that most nights I used any form of digital technology directly before bed my sleep quality was well below 70% sometimes dipping into the 40s and 50s. FUCK THIS, I uttered to myself, what do I have to lose. NOTHING. ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO LOSE. Actually I have everything to gain I immediately thought.
I made a rule for myself, no screens at least 30 mins before bed. I did this for a week monitoring my quality with this app and to my surprise, my quality of sleep was rising and rising fast. I started to feel more refreshed when I woke up, I started to become more clear-headed every morning. I gained a newfound respect for sleep. Maybe it was all placebo but science also says that placebo has a profound impact on the way your mind vies certain approaches after it’s been digested. WHO KNOWS…WHO CARES…It’s working!
What to do when you’re trying this yourself
The 30-minute rule only lasted for a month before I threw it in the garbage and made a new one, this time it was 45 minutes. And let tell you my friends, this was the sweet spot. EVERY. Single. Night. My sleep quality was above 90% and every single morning I was waking to a better mind, a more fulfilled feeling, and overall my energy levels started to slowly increase. Now, what can you do:
- Step 1: Download the sleep cycle app and let your smartphone be smart for you. I don’t care if you use the sleep cycle app or a hamster to tell you how you slept, just TRACK YOUR DAMN BREATHING.
- Step 2: Set a reminder to activate the app before bed
- Step 3: Write down a rule for yourself on limiting screen time before bed
- Step 4: Write down a few activities you might enjoy before bed Some of the activities I like to do before bed are reading a book, stretching my body, getting my things ready for the next day like water and vitamins, just sitting in silence until I get bored…find what works for you and use it. You don’t have to have it all figured out right now, take your time, ITS FREE.
- Step 5: Have a water bottle ready by your bedside for the next morning
- Step 6: Write down the questions you are going to ask yourself the next morning to monitor and improve your sleep quality Some questions you could ask yourself are, what did I do before sleeping last night? how do I feel now That I’ve woken up? Do I feel, well-rested, do I feel thirsty? Do I feel hungry? how do I want to feel when I wake up? what can I do now that can help shift my mood to a more positive state as soon as I get out of bed? These questions don’t have to be the exact one but that’s the beauty of experimentation, you are your researcher, research your body and mind and find what works best for you.
- Step 7: This last step is to make sure you have some kind of accountability to put this all into practice. It may seem daunting to write and answer questions about yourself but this is evolving. It’s time we normalize having conversations with our body and mind. Its time to normalize asking ourselves questions and answering ourselves.
Don’t be afraid to think out loud. It is not weird to ask questions and answer yourself. It’s part of human evolution. This is how we grow. This is how we, as humans, figured out how to communicate with other humans. This is how we figured out why coconuts fall off their tree. This is how we figured out how to grow food, how to eat those foods, how to make money off those foods. ASKING QUESTIONS. BEING CURIOUS.
People who have problems with sleep are at increased risk for developing emotional disorders, depression, and anxiety.
Dr . Lawrence J. Epstein
Take the first step with me towards fixing your sleep and you’ll reap the long term benefits of your labor. Peak your curiosity about the world and the world becomes your game. Find what works for you and use it to make your life better. Use it to become a better human.
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