Good sleep habits improve mood, energy, and mental health

We’ve all been there. A bad night’s sleep, a rough morning, dragging throughout the day, feeling sluggish and unmotivated, maybe even irritable. And it can get worse. Affecting eating patterns, impacting our sleep the next night and the next, and sometimes it can throw off the entire week. Pretty soon those around us are noticing we aren’t quite ourselves.

Humans have their own built-in “body clock,” what we refer to as a “circadian rhythm,” which is a 24-hour cycle that tells our bodies when to sleep and when to wake. Our circadian rhythms are very sensitive and can be easily thrown off by variable work schedules, inconsistent bedtimes, and environmental cues. There is an abundance of research showing the connection between sleep and health, in general, such as the adverse health effects of poor sleep on our cardiovascular and metabolic systems and the higher risk of obesity. More specifically, poor sleep has been linked with higher incidence of mood disorders, like depression and bipolar disorder. So if you always thought a couple of bad nights of sleep wasn’t a big deal, think again!

When we don’t get enough sleep, or our sleep is poor, or interrupted, it can significantly affect how we feel. It can make us moody, irritable, or even feel down and depressed. We can start to skip healthy routines, like having a good breakfast, going to the gym, or even arriving to work on time. We can start snapping at loved ones or co-workers, feel foggy or inattentive, lose our concentration and become less productive. If we have busy lives, at work or at home, or we’re trying to balance both, life can become that much more challenging.

When our sleep is off, our mood is off, and while one of the symptoms of depression is poor sleep (too much or too little), even when we are not depressed, having a bad night, or consecutive bad nights of sleep, can lead to low or depressed mood. We just don’t feel like ourselves. Our thoughts are more negative; we may become more self-defeating or self-sabotaging; we can begin to cope in more maladaptive ways; we can even start to turn to very unhealthy activities in order to “pick us up,” like overeating, consuming too much caffeine, smoking, drinking, or even substance use, just to feel better.

We are hard-wired to need approximately 7 hours of sound uninterrupted sleep in order to function effectively, so it follows that if we don’t get the right amount, or the best quality of sleep, our body, and our mind (read:mood) will let us know it. So how do we stop this negative cycle, and even more importantly, prevent this from happening in the first place? Following these simple steps will help.


Cartoon with check mark

  • regulate your bedtime
  • develop and maintain healthy sleep habits
  • make time to relax before bedtime
  • limit stimulants before bedtime
  • nap sensibly

Cartoon with x mark

  • just brush it off
  • use electronic devices while in bed
  • stimulate yourself if you wake up
  • drink or eat right before bedtime
  • take any sleep aids without consulting your physician

[publishpress_authors_data]'s recommendation to ExpertBeacon readers: Do

Do regulate your bedtime

Human beings actually crave routines, and while some of us thrive on them, and some of us avoid them, sleep is definitely something we need to regulate with a routine. Remember those circadian rhythms! It is important to keep a regular bedtime, especially during the workweek (but also on weekends if you can), so make sure to go to bed around the same time every night so you can also wake up at a more predictable time each morning. Everyone’s schedule is different, so think about how much time you need for your AM and PM routines before you respectively start and end your day, and then work in at least 7 solid hours for sleep. As your schedule shifts, or the demands on your time change, you may also have to occasionally tweak your bedtime/waketime to continue realistically allowing enough time for sleep.

Do develop and maintain healthy sleep habits

Try to maintain a strong association between bed/bedroom and sleep. While it may seem silly, it is a very easy way to keep sleep on track that we often take for granted. Our mind makes powerful connections, and sleep is very sensitive to “cues” like exposure to light, temperature, noise, and our physical environment. So, try to develop a comfortable environment that is conducive to sleep, and keep all those variables, or “cues,” consistent from night to night! When you do, you create more signals to the brain that it is time to sleep. Most sleep experts will also tell you “only sleep in bed” and “sleep only in bed.” That means you should reserve the bed only for sleep (and sex), and make sure that your good night’s sleep is happening in your bed and not on the couch or recliner.

Do make time to relax before bedtime

Remember those signals and cues? Well, engaging in a relaxing or soothing activity before bedtime also tells our brain it’s time to go to sleep. It can be anything that has a calming effect like reading, listening to soothing music, taking a bath, meditation, or even doing some deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation exercises. The goal here is to slow you down physically so you get into “sleep mode.”

Do limit stimulants before bedtime

Stimulants, like caffeine, sugar, and nicotine (cigarettes, tobacco products) will do just that – stimulate you! And if we’re stimulated, we can’t wind down and relax enough to go to sleep. That means limiting caffeinated and/or sugary beverages like coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks, etc. in the evening and avoiding them altogether within 2-3 hours of bedtime.

Do nap sensibly

Okay, so this one is tricky. Napping can be a great way to catch up on sleep and feel rested and recharged, but it can also throw off our circadian rhythms and make it more difficult to get to sleep at night. Napping once in a while because you really need the rest due to things such as illness, recovery from an accident or surgery, or having had a particularly bad night of sleep, is okay. If you must nap, try to limit it to less than one hour and do it earlier in the day, like in the afternoon. And try not to make a habit of it. If you find you’re napping pretty regularly, it is time to evaluate what’s going on, readjust your sleep schedule, and/or see a doctor or sleep professional.

[publishpress_authors_data]'s professional advice to ExpertBeacon readers: Don't

Do not just brush it off

Having a bad night’s sleep can happen to anyone, even when we generally sleep well. However, if it keeps happening fairly regularly, and especially if sleep has been poor for a while, don’t brush it off! There may be a perfectly good reason why you’re not sleeping well, and hopefully you just need to follow some good advice (like our Do’s above), but your sleep problem may also be something more serious. The body has a way of letting us know, sometimes more subtly, like with changes in sleep, that we need to pay attention. Sleep is critical to health and if you’re having problems, then it really is a health concern, so make an appointment with your doctor and check it out!

Do not use electronic devices while in bed

Nowadays, we use our smartphones and/or tablets for just about everything, sometimes right up until the moment we head for bed. However, more and more research is discovering that screen time (and exposure to certain kinds of light) just prior to falling asleep can actually stimulate the brain and cause many people to have difficulty getting to sleep. So while some of us may want to sit in bed and scroll through Facebook, Twitter, or even check email, it isn’t wise. Limit exposure to screens, including laptops, in the last hour before bedtime. Instead, opt for some more relaxing activities, such as those outlined above in the Do’s section. Remember, we need to wind down the body and the mind so we activate the signals and cues to sleep.

Do not stimulate yourself if you wake up

Following the Do’s above will help ensure the best chance of falling asleep with ease, but if you find that you do wake up in the middle of the night, try not to engage in anything too stimulating. Scrolling through your smartphone, starting to watch TV, listening to loud music, or reading on a device with a backlight will only serve to activate your brain, so will starting to stress over the fact that you’re not sleeping. While it may be a little frustrating just lying there, try to get yourself back into “sleep mode” by engaging in a little bit of relaxation such as deep breathing without necessarily focusing on needing to get to sleep. Just focus on relaxing and staying in sleep mode. Keep the lights and sounds off, avoid getting out of bed and simply relax, so your body and brain can respond to the sleep cues! That means don’t get up, go for food or drink, or start getting your mind going; it will only make it take longer to get to sleep.

Do not drink or eat right before bedtime

Avoid consuming beverages (especially alcohol or stimulants) and heavy meals in the evening; they can disrupt sleep. Try to refrain from drinking or eating within the last 2 hours before bedtime. For many, filling up your bladder will mean, at some point, you will need to empty it! So, if you find that you are waking up at night to go the bathroom, start cutting back on liquids a little earlier in the evening. Additionally, large, or even just spicy, meals close to bedtime can create digestive discomfort that also interferes with getting a good night’s rest. Plan a proper dinnertime and stick to it!

Do not take any sleep aids without consulting your physician

Sometimes no matter what we do, we have trouble falling or staying asleep. That often leads to the temptation to take a sleep aid, and while for some people, that may be exactly what they need, it is important to check with your doctor first. There are many explanations for why your sleep may be poor, and simply ignoring it and masking it with a sleep aid can risk identifying a real health concern. Also, many sleep aids, even over-the-counter products, can have adverse effects and should not be taken when we have certain medical conditions or are taking particular medications. Anything you put into your body can have a good or bad effect, so always consult with your physician before taking something.


Without the proper amount of sleep (at least 7 solid hours), our mood will definitely suffer and, in turn, it can adversely affect thinking, concentration, attention, productivity, motivation, temperament and so much else. It’s difficult to feel 100 percent when we haven’t gotten enough rest. So, remember that while we may all suffer an occasional poor night of sleep, there are some simple ways to ensure that, most nights, we get exactly what we need. Mostly, it’s a matter of developing healthy routines that promote good quality sleep. Following this simple advice can guide you in the right direction and keep your mood level!

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