If you’ve ever been accused of waking up on the wrong side of the bed, there may be something to that. “It’s fairly well-established in scientific literature that adequate sleep is important for mood regulation,” says Fitbit sleep advisor Michael T. Smith, Jr., PhD, professor of psychiatry, neurology, and nursing and director of the Center for Behavior and Health at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.
In fact, people who habitually get less than eight hours of sleep a night may have a harder time tuning out the type of negative thoughts that can contribute to anxiety and depression, finds a recent study in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry. Sleep loss affects how the brain functions, especially the frontal lobes which inhibit those repetitive, intrusive thoughts that can lead to worry and anxiety, says Smith.
Studies also show that inadequate rest can impede your ability to feel pleasure. But that’s not all: When you’re sleep deprived, your brain also has a harder time working effectively. “The first thing to go is executive functioning,” says Smith. “Reaction time is slowed, creativity is affected, and you won’t be as mentally flexible.”
The good news? Many of the negative effects of sleep deprivation are preventable.
Optimize Your Sleep
To support your brain’s mood regulation and cognitive function, the best remedy could be adequate sleep. What does that look like?
Everybody’s different, but the vast majority of adults need seven to eight hours of relatively uninterrupted sleep, says Smith. If your sleep is fragmented—say, you get three hours, wake up, and then get another two hours versus simply getting five hours straight—the negative effects of sleep deprivation can be worse, because you don’t have the chance to progress into the deeper stages of sleep that help you feel restored and rejuvenated.
Check your sleep data in the Fitbit app. Although it’s normal to experience multiple periods of restlessness each night, the maximum number of times per night that you wake up so fully that you remember it the next morning is two, says Smith. (Unless you’re older and are waking up to use the bathroom—that’s common.)
Quality sleep is best achieved by maintaining a consistent sleep schedule that feels right for you. People are “genetically predisposed” to different bedtimes and rise times, says Smith, hence the night owl and early bird phenomenon. “Preferably, you go to bed when you want to go to bed, and wake when you want to wake,” he says. Try using Fitbit’s sleep tools to set a schedule and stick to it.
If adhering to a regular schedule isn’t possible, monitoring how long it takes you to fall asleep and wake up can help you figure out whether your sleep schedule is out of whack. “Follow the 30-minute rule,” says Smith. “If it takes you more than 30 minutes to fall asleep, or you begin waking up 30 minutes before you set your alarm, see your doc.” If you feel “content” with the amount of rest you’re getting—if you’re feeling happy, healthy and alert—then you’re probably getting enough.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.