Why poor sleep affects your emotional and mental health

Those of us who suffer from insomnia understand very well how difficult and stressful it can be. Now, US researchers have shown having a bad night’s sleep raises stress levels by up to 30%.

The study, conducted by the University of California, Berkeley aimed to look at how poor sleep can impact a person’s mental wellbeing.

Almost 330 people aged between 18 and 50 were assessed for the study, which was published in scientific journal Nature Human Behaviour.

For the first part of the study, the researchers measured the brainwaves of 18 young adults while they were watching excerpts of emotional scenes, once after having a good night’s sleep and again after a poor night’s sleep.

Tests were then carried out to measure stress levels.

The brain reacts differently after sleeping badly

The researchers found that after the restless night’s sleep, the medial prefrontal cortex in the brains of the respondents which helps to alleviate anxiety was not functioning as normal.

Meanwhile, the brain’s deeper emotional centres were found to be overactive. These results were replicated in another study of 30 people in their twenties, thirties and forties.

A four-day study looked at the sleep and anxiety levels of 280 young and middle-aged people and used an online questionnaire.

Study subjects reported elevated stress levels after a bad night’s sleep. 

Dr Eti Ben Simon, of the Centre for Human Sleep Science for the university and lead author of the study commented: ’People with anxiety disorders routinely report having disturbed sleep, but rarely is sleep improvement considered as a clinical recommendation for lowering anxiety.’

This gives rise to the idea that sleep could be prescribed by GPs. As exercise on prescription has been an NHS initiative, It’s not as fanciful as it sounds.

However, as some studies have claimed that two-thirds of us suffer from sleep problems, there will be big demand of patients requiring help to get the Sleep Council’s recommended seven to nine hours of sleep for adults under the age of 65.

What causes insomnia?

  • Nasal/sinus allergies
  • Asthma
  • Sleep apnoea
  • Depression
  • Backpain
  • Reflux
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Asthma
  • Chronic pain

Discovering what is the underlying cause of insomnia can require careful investigation: whether it’s unhealthy habits such as too much alcohol or an underlying medical condition, your doctor will need to play detective.

If it’s difficult to get an appointment with your NHS GP where only 10 minutes is allotted to each patient, it may be worth considering seeking the services of a private GP, or for women to seek advice from a gynaecologist with a specialist interest in hormones and sleep - such as Mr Neale Watson.

Most GPs who operate on a private basis usually spend at least 30 minutes with each patient, allowing for an in-depth exploration of health problems and more chances of well-targeted treatment.

A huge issue during pandemic lockdown has been the increase in alcohol and substance abuse. In these cases, specific, specialist services - such as CORE rehab may also be appropriate.

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