It’s not only toddlers who get cranky when they’ve not had enough sleep. Adults are just as susceptible to the ill effects of sleep deprivation: we get irritable, short-tempered, and more vulnerable to stress. Before you know it, you’re barking at colleagues and snapping at your family, when you’re usually all sweetness and sunshine.
Studies have shown that even partial sleep deprivation can do this – you don’t have to miss out on a whole night of sleep. And as soon as you manage to get a solid seven or eight hours, you wake up feeling like you could star in a mattress commercial.
We tend to cut down on sleep when we’re busy and stressed, but that’s exactly the time we should be concentrating on getting more shuteye. And it’s important to note that there’s also a strong link between psychiatric and psychological problems and sleep, because it has an adverse effect on some of the hormones and neurotransmitters in the brain, like serotonin.
Difficulty sleeping is sometimes the first symptom of depression, and sleep problems may, in turn, contribute to psychological problems – insomnia is a risk factor for depression, anxiety and panic disorder.
So what, now what? If you’re not sleeping well, and feel depressed, anxious, or less emotionally responsive, start by addressing your sleep. And don’t cut back on it when times are overly busy and stressful. Practise good sleep hygiene: get seven hours of sleep daily, go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time every day, ensure you’re not too hot or too cold, keep your room dark, switch off screens an hour or two before bedtime, and keep your bed for sleep and sex only. And if your mood doesn’t improve, seek expert help.