Why sleep is important for emotional wellbeing

Most of us have the occasional night when we don’t sleep very well, and it can make us feel a bit tetchy and fatigued throughout the following day. However, if we have regular sleep deprivation it can affect our mental health, our outlook, our performance at work – and our relationships.

Why does sleep deprivation make you more emotionally reactive?

If you are tired all the time, this is likely to make you less tolerant, whether that’s snapping at a work colleague, arguing with your partner or being generally impatient. Research into sleep deprivation has shown it makes you more likely to react more strongly and impulsively in situations and can also trigger something that scientists call ‘anticipatory anxiety’ – that means you worry about things that may happen in the future.

How does sleep deprivation impact on the brain?

In addition to slowing our physical reflexes, which could be dangerous if we operate machinery or drive, research has shown that lack of sleep increases activity in the emotional rapid response centre of our brain – an area known as the amygdala. The amygdala controls many of our immediate emotional reactions. So, when short on sleep this part of the brain goes into overdrive, causing us to react more intensely to situations on an emotional level. Lack of sleep also hampers the communication between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex, another area of our brain involved in emotional regulation. This part of our brain processes a lot of complex tasks, including slowing down impulsive reactions, so when you don’t get enough sleep, your brain can’t do its job as well and you become more impulsive and less thoughtful in your emotional responses.

Why does our brain need to rest for good emotional health?

The emotional centres of the brain need us to rest and sleep well, so they can ‘download’ and store our daily experiences. The Rapid Eye Movement (REM) part of our sleep cycles is particularly important for processing memories that might be more difficult or painful, and easing the emotional sting these memories might have. REM sleep takes place several times each night during our sleep cycles, getting longer each time. So, if you aren’t getting enough sleep, your brain is not getting the benefit of this restorative work, and your emotional life can suffer.

How can sleep deprivation impact on our relationships?

Sleep deprivation diminishes our capacity for empathy, an emotional skill that is essential for healthy relationships with our family, friends, and partners. Being able to understand another person’s feelings, thoughts and experiences is part and parcel of building a strong connection with someone else. Sleep deprivation makes us less able to see things from another person’s point of view, less able to recognise and imagine their feelings. For example, studies carried out in the USA have shown that couples who are sleep deprived tend to argue more and are less successful at resolving conflicts than those couples who enjoy good quality sleep.

Does sleep deprivation affect men and women differently?

A study carried out by Clinical Psychologist, Dr Michael Breus, discovered that sleep deprivation can show differences in how men and women experience the emotional impact of poor sleep. The study showed that women experienced more irritation and depression first thing in the morning than men. Scientists have proved that women’s brains expend more energy than men’s brains - and this is thought to be down to women’s ability to multitask. This additional energy expenditure means women tend to need more sleep to process everything that they’ve experienced during the day.

What can help to achieve a better quality of sleep?

In addition to making time to relax just before bedtime and avoiding heavy meals and caffeine, your bedroom environment is a critical factor in achieving a more restful sleep. A good bedroom environment is created by:

  • Keeping it cool and dark: The optimum temperature to trigger your body into sleep (and staying asleep) is between 16c and 18c. Read more…
  • Avoiding distractions: Switch off your devices and the TV as this will help to create a calm environment, rather than stimulating your mind and making it harder to fall asleep.
  • Sleeping under and on natural materials: Natural materials are breathable, whereas synthetic materials tend to trap heat. That might sound great in winter, but not so restful once the weather warms up! Wool fibres are the master of temperature regulation, so a wool filled duvet will work with you and the ambient temperature in your bedroom to help balance your core body temperature whilst you sleep and provide a better sleep environment. That means you are less likely to experience disrupted sleep through waking up feeling too hot or too cold. Opt for bedding with wool that hasn’t been chemically treated so it’s as natural as possible. Our award-winning wool duvets are filled with certified fully traceable 100% British wool and each one is individually handcrafted by our seamstresses in Devon. They’re natural, sustainable, and chemical free. We also offer a range of wool mattress toppers and wool pillows.

If you have any questions about our products, then please do get in touch with the team and we’ll be happy to help.

Always consult your doctor or medical professional if you experience sleep deprivation on a regular basis.

Refs: Dr Michael Breus; Britannica; Health Research Authority.