We’ve all got that one friend who encourages us to “smile” when that’s the last thing we want to do. But prepared to get even more annoyed because … your friend is right. When researchers from the University of Tennessee Knoxville and Texas A&M pored over nearly 50 years of data—accumulated from 138 studies—they found that there is in fact a correlation between our facial expressions and our feelings.
Likewise, a whole heap of research links our overall mood to the quality of our sleep: Three-fourths of people with major depression describe poor sleep that includes often awakening early, difficulty falling asleep and inability to wake refreshed in the morning.
As Frederic Snyder, who helped establish the field of clinical psychiatric sleep disorders, said in the mid ’60s: “Troubled minds have troubled sleep, and troubled sleep causes troubled minds.”
In fact, sleep and mood are so interconnected that it can feel like a chicken-or-egg scenario: Are you tired because you’re sad? Or are you sad because you’re tired? Regardless of what came first, it’s worth the effort it takes to invest in both your mental wellbeing and the quality of your sleep, as sleep deprivation has been linked to unsafe driving, workplace accidents and numerous other dangers.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, there are three primary ways to determine if your depression and/or anxiety is the result of poor sleep:
· Your worries play in an endless loop in your brain at night: Do you feel like you have an “on” switch that can’t be turned off? Anxious, racing thoughts—or hyperarousal—greatly increase the risk of insomnia.
· You’re sleepy during the day: If you’re blue, you’re less likely to enjoy restful sleep cycles. In turn, low energy may plague you during your waking hours.
· You have bad dreams: Frequent nightmares are a clue that you may be depressed or anxious. And the time it takes to soothe yourself after waking from a bad dream can impact not only your sleep but your ability to function the next day.
Depression and sleep: What you need to know
Scientists have noted that people with depression share common sleep disturbances. Most often, they experience sleep that is short and shallow or fragmented, so that they get less total sleep as well as less of the sleep that is most restorative.
Commonly, REM sleep is impacted—and this is meaningful, as this is when memory and emotional processing occurs. The American Sleep Association reports, “During REM sleep, as its name indicates, there are rapid movements of the eyes. In depression, these are particularly intense during the first REM episode of the night (there are usually four or five such episodes, usually separated by roughly 90 minutes). Typically, the first REM episode occurs about 90-110 minutes after sleep onset. In depressed persons, however, it often appears much earlier, often 60-80 minutes after falling asleep. This has led some researchers to believe that there are abnormalities of the body’s rhythms, which may potentially play a role in depression.”
Things to smile about before bed
So, for a better night’s sleep, we should just find something to smile about? Of course, it’s not that simple. We suggest consulting with your doctor or psychologist if you think you may be suffering from depression, anxiety or insomnia.
But falling asleep with a smile on your face certainly won’t hurt if your aim is to rest easy. In an online article on Today.com, sleep specialists and psychologists suggest the following activities to get you in a cheerful place before bed:
· Read a funny book
· Color in a coloring book
· Watch a funny show (not news or sports)
· Have sex
· Do yoga poses that involve sitting or lying down
· Eat some carbs or chocolate (here are three recipes that encourage sleep)
· Write in a gratitude journal
Want to learn more about the science of sleep and how to sleep better? Here are 26 things you’ll probably be surprised to learn about the activity we all engage in each day.