Sleep may be the easiest way to handle life’s challenges

Getting a good night’s sleep is essential to your physical and mental health. In fact, not getting enough sleep ­— or enough quality sleep — is linked to some pretty heavy-hitting health problems over the long term, including Alzheimer’s, heart disease and cancer.

But sometimes it’s hard to motivate yourself to make healthy changes when the benefits are way off in the distance. Sure, you don’t want to get Alzheimer’s or heart disease in a decade or two or three… but that pressing work deadline needs to be met right now.

So, if you’ve been sacrificing sleep lately so you can get more done in your work life, personal life or whatever, I want to share an immediate benefit of solid sleep that may put a fire under your butt to change your ways sooner rather than later…

Getting enough sleep makes life’s highs higher and life’s lows less low.

Life is filled with beautiful experiences and it’s filled with challenging experiences. If you’re not getting enough sleep, those beautiful experiences won’t feel quite as beautiful and the challenging ones will feel even more challenging. In other words? Poor sleep makes your life feel more difficult and less enjoyable.

One night of poor sleep steals your emotional resilience

Researchers from the University of British Columbia just confirmed that even one night of poor sleep can mute the positive experiences in life and amplify the negative ones.

The study included data from nearly 2,000 people who kept a diary and participated in daily phone interviews where they shared information about their sleep quality and their emotions.

According to researchers, on nights they didn’t sleep as much, study participants reported not feeling as happy about positive experiences, like spending time in nature or getting a hug. They also reported feeling more stressed out by negative experiences, like arguments, work challenges, social tensions and being discriminated against.

Now, if you’ve ever had a poor night’s sleep, you’ve probably experienced the results of this study firsthand. I know I have… especially when it comes to my ability to deal with stress. When I haven’t slept well, even small stressors send me over the edge quickly. But when I’ve slept well, I’m able to stay positive in the face of small and often bigger challenges. Here’s why that’s incredibly important…

Previous research conducted by these researchers as well as other researchers shows that being unable to stay positive when you’re confronted with stress increases your risk of inflammation, which puts you at risk for a wide array of chronic diseases. It also increases your risk of early death.

This study also had an important takeaway for people who are already dealing with chronic health conditions like diabetes, cancer, heart disease or others. People with health problems tend to react more negatively to stress, most likely because their physiological stress systems have undergone a lot of wear and tear while dealing with their disease. But sleeping a little extra can help people with chronic health conditions feel a bit better in their day-to-day.

“For those with chronic health conditions, we found that longer sleep — compared to one’s usual sleep duration — led to better responses to positive experiences on the following day,” said lead researcher health psychologist Nancy Sin.

How to get solid sleep

So, if you’re looking for more happiness and natural resilience in your life, start paying more attention to your sleep. Most people need seven to eight hours of sleep per night to achieve optimum mental and physical health.

If you have a habit of not sleeping enough or not sleeping well, start troubleshooting your issue… what’s contributing to your poor sleep habits? Is it mental stress? Medications you’re taking or the foods you’re eating? Having too much on your plate at work or at home? Poor time management?

The answer will be different for everybody… and as a result, so will the solution. But in general, anyone who’s looking to sleep better could benefit from the following practices:

  • Keeping your bedroom dark. A dark bedroom will help you maintained a well-aligned circadian rhythm, which will make falling and staying asleep much easier. Depending on where you live, you may even need to put up light-blocking curtains to prevent outside lights from shining in.
  • Limiting your use of electronic devices. Electronic devices like TVs, computers and smartphones emit blue light, which can mess with your circadian rhythm and make it harder to fall asleep. Make sure to stop looking at these devices at least an hour before bedtime… and keep them out of the bedroom.
  • Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning. Your body loves routine and adjusts to it easily. If you go to sleep at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning, your body will take note and naturally start following your lead.
  • Use your bed for sleep… not eating, reading, etc. Once again, it’s all about training your mind and body. You want your bed to evoke feelings of relaxation and sleep… not stimulation, hunger or excitement.
  • Seek professional help for insomnia. If you deal with ongoing issues with insomnia, you may want to seek professional assistance from someone who can help you overcome it. Research shows cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective way to get to the root of your insomnia and start sleeping again, so you may want to seek out a therapist who’s trained in CBT.

Sources:

People react better to both negative and positive events with more sleep — EurekAlert!

Sleep duration and affective reactivity to stressors and positive events in daily life — Health Psychology.

Insomnia treatment: Cognitive behavioral therapy instead of sleeping pills — Mayo Clinic.

Get Enough Sleep — U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.