Ask the Psychiatrist: How Sleep Affects Your Emotions

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March 24, 2021


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“Sleep is an important topic,” says Dr. Rachel V.F. Rohaidy, M.D., a board-certified psychiatrist at Baptist Health Primary Care. “The lack of adequate sleep is a culprit in many behaviors that are affected by high stress levels,” says Dr. Rohaidy, who also serves as medical director of The Recovery Village at Baptist Health. “It can result in moodiness, irritability, overeating, lack of vigilance in taking medications and a long list of other unhealthy behaviors.”

Rohaidy
Rachel V. F. Rohaidy, M.D., a psychiatrist at Baptist Health Primary Care

Restorative, healthy sleep can help you get through the chemical changes that occur in your body, emotionally and physically, throughout the day, according to Dr. Rohaidy. “By learning to practice restorative sleep, you can learn to control and reduce the amount of stress level hormones released within your body.”

As we decrease our stress, we are also reducing inflammation, allowing our body to properly heal from some of the emotions we feel, Dr. Rohaidy says. “Sleep is not the same for everyone, however, and learning how to practice restorative sleep isn’t a quick fix.”

There are four stages of sleep of the sleep cycle, Dr. Rohaidy says:

Stage 1:

“This is when you lay down and begin to go to sleep,” says Dr. Rohaidy. This stage lasts about 10 minutes, she says, and people are easily awakened during this stage. “Your muscles begin to contract, your body begins to relax and work less vigorously, your breathing begins to decrease and your temperature decreases slightly.”

Stage 2:
It’s a little harder to wake someone up at this stage, Dr. Rohaidy says. “About 20 minutes into sleep, your body is even more relaxed, your blood pressure is lower and your breathing slows down.” Roughly 40 to 45 percent of our sleep time occurs in Stage 2, when we’re relaxed enough to sleep, according to Dr. Rohaidy.

Stages 3 and 4:

This is where deep sleep begins, says Dr. Rohaidy. “These are the non-REM sleep stages where people are known to sleepwalk and have night terror,” she says. “You feel nothing at this stage, and if you’re forced to wake up, you’ll be disoriented.”

REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep is the stage in which we dream and when the brain processes stress and emotions, Dr. Rohaidy says, and it accounts for 20 percent of our sleep time. Also known as restorative sleep or paradoxical sleep, this is the stage where your body takes control of your heart rate, breathing and other essential functions. Although you’re in a deep sleep at this point, if you were to have an EEG, you would see that your brain is actually quite active.”

Dr. Rohaidy says we need to make sure we do whatever we can to reduce our stress levels.

“You want to avoid the constant push on your adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol,” she says. “The runaway stress response system has been shown to cause heart attacks, stroke, diabetes and obesity, which in turn contribute to poor health.” Studies have also shown that poor sleep can inhibit recovery in some cancer patients as well as in patients who’ve suffered a heart attack or a stroke, she adds.

According to Dr. Rohaidy, by practicing good sleep hygiene over time the benefits for you are better sleep, a clearer head, less foggy in the frontal lobe where you make decisions and your thoughts are not as muddy.

Dr. Rohaidy offers advice on how you, too, can get a better night’s sleep:

Sleep Basics:

  • The brain is not separate from the body. High stress, depression and anxiety all affect our body and sleep.
  • REM sleep can be inhibited by some medications as well as by consuming alcohol before bedtime, which can prevent you from going to Stage 3 and 4 and REM sleep.
  • By learning to decrease stress, we can reduce inflammation in our body which in turn allows the body to heal properly from the emotions we feel.
  • Deep, restorative sleep leads to improved physical and mental health.
  • Sleep hygiene is something you can learn over time.

“Good sleep hygiene is something you can learn over time,” says Dr. Rohaidy. “Making it a part of your daily practice will help you stay focused on getting the best night’s sleep you can get.”

Helpful Tips to Get Started:

  • Have a fixed wake-up time. Create a regular sleep schedule – when you want to go to sleep and when you want to get up – even on the weekend. 
  • Prioritize sleep; put it on your to-do list, if you have to. “It’s tempting to skip sleep because of work, study, social engagements or to exercise, but sleep should always be a priority,” Dr. Rohaidy says. “It’s a slow process, something you can work at daily.”
  • Make gradual changes over time, and step-by-step adjustments as needed.
  • Most importantly, avoid taking naps because it slows down your sleep process.

How to Achieve Your Sleep Goals:

  • Create a physical reminder to your body that you’re going to sleep, Dr. Rohaidy advises. “Make a bedtime routine for yourself,” she says. “Wash your face, brush your teeth, wear different clothes for bed. You want your body to recognize what you’re going to do. Your bedtime routine signals your body that you’re going to sleep.”
  • Set aside 30 minutes before bedtime to dim the lights and do whatever you need to do to put yourself in a relaxed state – meditate, pray, do breathing exercises.
  • Unplug from all your electronics. “That means putting your phone, tablet or other devices away for the night, as difficult as that may be,” Dr. Rohaidy says.
  • Don’t toss and turn. You need to teach your body that you’re going to sleep. “If in 20 to 30 minutes you haven’t fallen asleep, do something else that’s not stimulating but will help you relax and make a connection with your body,” Dr. Rohaidy suggests.

Don’t try and do it all at once, Dr. Rohaidy cautions, or you’ll be setting yourself up for frustration and disappointment. “Getting a better night’s sleep doesn’t just happen overnight,” she says with a laugh. Take baby steps, instead, she advises. “Making just one or two small changes will help reveal and reinforce the benefits of practicing good sleep hygiene,” she says.

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