Lack of sleep can turn you into a cranky baby.
Sleep isn’t passive
As you may have already learned from recent attempts at fulfilling your New Year’s resolutions, keeping on track while maintaining the perfect balance of body and mind is no easy task. But the human body is a smart one, a little piece of work cleverly designed to do its own bit of moodtraining through an abundant amount of processes collectively known as homeostasis—the biological equivalent of ensuring a healthy balance. Sleep is one of the most important and most heavily-studied components of this regulatory system, yet it is also perhaps the most neglected in the world today, where productivity and results reign supreme. But sleep is far from a passive process, and it plays a tremendous role in making sure your body and your mind are functioning at maximum capacity.
Sleep makes you able to derive pleasure from positive experiences
While it is widely known that inadequate sleep impairs endurance performance during exercise, research has also shown that sleep deprivation, even in moderate amounts, can negatively impact the ability of the brain to consolidate and process emotional memories, and it can make us more susceptible to the negative emotions that often prevent us from achieving our goals.1 A 2006 study on the effects of sleep deprivation and exercise showed that subjects who exercised intermittently during the 30-hour period of deprivation actually experienced more mood disturbances than similarly-deprived subjects who did not exercise, while similar studies have shown that people are less able to derive pleasure from positive experiences when faced with a lack of sleep. 2
Sleep facilitates glucose metabolism
In an extensive examination of the physiological foundations of willpower and self-control, Gailliot and Baumeister discuss the role of glucose—a simple sugar that the body uses for energy—in supplying the brain with the resources it needs to overcome impulsive actions, stick to goals, and cope with unforeseen frustration and anxiety, as well as to complete complex intellectual tasks. The availability of glucose and the body’s ability to utilize it seem to be important factors in determining how well we are able to manage our mood states, as well as our impulses.3 What does this have to do with sleep? Newer research indicates that even a single night of partial sleep disruption can increase resistance to insulin, the hormone necessary to make glucose available to the cells in our bodies.4,5 So without an adequate amount of sleep, we are depriving ourselves of the fuel we need to stay calm, cool, and collected, as well as potentially increasing our risk for developing type II diabetes. Other metabolic pathways are affected by lack of sleep as well, including that for cortisol, the “stress hormone” that can over time lead to decreased bone formation, weakened immune system, and increases in blood pressure. 5
Sleep and moodtraining
For the fitness-minded, goal-oriented individual, taking the steps to ensuring a full night’s rest might mean holding off on a project until the morning or skipping that night out at the club if you’re feeling sluggish. An important part of moodtraining is recognizing the powerful connection between body and mind, and also that you as an individual have the ability to strengthen that connection, improving your physical and mental well-being, just by paying attention and responding to the needs your body is trying to communicate. Your full night’s sleep will allow you to be more focused, more positive, more serene, and more able to resist those nasty temptations that can deter you from achieving your ultimate potential.
- Gujar, Ninad; McDonald, Steven; Nishida, Masaki; Walker, Matthew P. 2011. A Role for REM sleep in recalibrating the sensitivity of the human brain to specific emotions. Cerebral Cortex. 21 (1): 115-123.
- Scott, Jonathan P.R.; McNaughton, Lars R.; Polman, Remco C.J. 2006. Effects of sleep deprivation and exercise on cognitive, motor performance and mood. Physiology and Behavior 87(2): 396-408.
- Gailliot, Matthew T. and Baumeister, Roy F. 2007.The Physiology of Willpower: Linking Blood Glucose to Self-Control. Personality and Social Psychology Review 11: 303. DOI: 10.1177/1088868307303030
- Donga, Esther et al. 2010. A Single Night of Partial Sleep Deprivation Induces Insulin Resistance in Multiple Metabolic Pathways in Healthy Subjects. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism 95(6): 2963-2968.
- Spiegel, Karine; Leproult, Rachel; Van Couter, Eve. 1999. Impact of sleep debt on metabolic and endocrine function. The Lancet 354(9188): 1435-1439.
Photo by xlibber. Used under Creative Commons licensing, borrowed from Flickr.