Feed Your Mood: The Link between Diet and Mental Health

What foods are associated with increased psychiatric symptoms? What should you eat if you want to boost your mood? Learn what researchers have found when it comes to diet and mental well-being.

By Cassie Jewell, LPC, LSATP

You may have heard of the “food-mood connection.” Research indicates that our food choices greatly impact not only physical health, but mental well-being. Some foods seem to boost mood and reduce psychiatric symptoms while others are linked to depression and anxiety.

Mood Thugs

Sugar negatively impacts mood and slows memory and learning. High-sugar diets are associated with smaller brain volume. Furthermore, sugar will make you less alert and more tired. A recent study found that the idea of a “sugar rush” is myth.

Sugar is not the only villain; fat can be just as harmful. One study found that a high-fat diet may lead to symptoms of depression and anxiety. Furthermore, trans fat may lead to poor memory function.

If you have bipolar disorder, avoid processed meats such as jerky, hot dogs, etc. Researchers found that nitrates in processed meats are associated with mania.

Mood Champions

A diet high in fiber and vegetables (with limited fast food and added sugars) has been linked to improved mood and a reduction in depressive symptoms. Interestingly, women seem to benefit more than men, and the effect is even greater when exercise is added. A vegan or plant-based diet is associated with lower levels of depression, anxiety, and stress.

Fruits and vegetables are good for mood, but raw fruits and veggies are better. A raw diet is associated with higher levels of mental wellbeing and lower levels of psychiatric symptoms. According to a recent study, the top raw food associated with mental wellness are apples, bananas, berries, carrots, citrus fruits, cucumbers,  grapefruit, kiwi, lettuce, and dark, leafy greens.

So how many servings of fruit/veggies should you eat per day for optimal mental health? At least 8, according to one study that found happiness benefits were evident for each portion for up to 8 servings per day.

What nutrients should you include in your diet for improved mental health? Research indicates the following are important for mental wellbeing:  Omega-3 fatty acids (fish, flaxseed, walnuts), phospholipids (egg yolk, soybeans), niacin (liver, avocado, brown rice), folate (legumes, beets, broccoli), vitamin B6 (chickpeas, tuna), and vitamin B12 (sardines, fortified nutritional yeast).

In sum, skip the fast food and soda; head to the salad bar instead to feed your mood and your belly!


References

Bonnie Beezhold, Cynthia Radnitz, Amy Rinne & Julie DiMatteo (2015) Vegans report less stress and anxiety than omnivores, Nutritional Neuroscience, 18:7, 289-296, DOI: 10.1179/1476830514Y.0000000164

Boston University. (2017, April 20). Is soda bad for your brain? (And is diet soda worse?): Both sugary, diet drinks correlated with accelerated brain aging. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/04/170420162254.htm

Johns Hopkins Medicine. (2018, July 18). Beef jerky and other processed meats associated with manic episodes. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/07/180718082225.htm

Knüppel, A., Shipley, M. J., Llewellyn, C. H., & Brunner, E. J. (2017). Sugar intake from sweet food and beverages, common mental disorder and depression: prospective findings from the Whitehall II study. Scientific reports7(1), 6287. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-05649-7

Lim SY, Kim EJ, Kim A, Lee HJ, Choi HJ, Yang SJ.   Nutritional Factors Affecting Mental Health.   Clin Nutr Res. 2016 Jul;5(3):143-152. https://doi.org/10.7762/cnr.2016.5.3.143

University of California, Los Angeles. (2012, May 15). This is your brain on sugar: Study shows high-fructose diet sabotages learning, memory. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120515150938.htm

University of California, San Diego Health Sciences. (2015, June 17). Dietary trans fat linked to worse memory. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/06/150617144237.htm

University of Manchester. (2019, February 5). Healthy diet can ease symptoms of depression. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/02/190205090511.htm

University of Otago. (2018, April 16). Raw fruit and vegetables provide better mental health outcomes. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180416101403.htm

University of Warwick. (2016, July 10). Fruit and veggies give you the feel-good factor. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/07/160710094239.htm

University of Warwick. (2019, April 4). No such thing as ‘sugar rush’! Sugar worsens mood rather than improving it. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190404104345.htm

Wiley. (2015, October 19). High-fat diet may cause changes in brain that lead to anxiety, depression. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/10/151019123204.htm

Guest Post: The Toll Diabetes Takes on My Mental Health

Diabetes can take a toll on anyone. Michele Renee was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at the age of 22. In this post, she describes her experience with the disease, including how it affected her mental health. She also shares the key to finding peace with her illness.

By Michele Renee from Life With Michele Renee

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Diabetes can take a toll on anyone, if not taken care of properly. When it comes to mental health though, diabetes is known to affect certain aspects of day to day life.

I first found out I had diabetes type 2 when I was 22 years old. I was overly stressed and eating my feelings way more than I should have. The stress and unhealthy lifestyle were what triggered my diabetes symptoms.

 

I have always dealt with depression and low self-esteem, but once my symptoms were triggered, I started to deal with memory loss, and a foggy brain. The best way to describe that experience is like you learn something that doesn’t quite make sense, but you could see where the concept is headed but you still can’t figure it out.

Then five minutes later you completely forget the meaning of the concept and where it was headed. I dealt with this constantly. I was in college during this time, and I ended up failing quite a bit of classes because I just couldn’t understand what I was learning. Also, on a test day, I would forget almost everything that I had studied.

How I Manage Diabetes Day to Day

I started having to keep an ongoing list of “To Do’s” and would have to revisit the list four or five times before I remembered to finish the “To Do” item.

This crossed over into my conversations with my friends and loved ones as well. Some days I wouldn’t remember what I said in a conversation from the day before. The short-term memory loss was horrible!

But once I started eating according to a diabetes diet, the fogginess and memory loss started to go away.

I also dealt with insomnia and poor sleep, and in a lot of ways that was a result of the foods I was eating. Once I changed my diet, and started exercising more, I slept a lot better.

Diabetes and Other Mental Health Issues

On top of diabetes, I also have a few other mental illnesses. One of them being bipolar disorder, rapid cycling. My highs would go for a week, then I would feel normal, then I would be low for another week, in terms of mood.

During my highs, I would often forget to eat, and that would leave me feeling shaky (a result of low blood sugar) and anxious. Some days, I would forget to eat for hours because I wanted to finish whatever inspiring project I was working on at the minute.

On my low mood swings, I would feel so depressed and sad, and sometimes even numb that I would binge eat. The binge eating would either be fast food or sugary foods (both of which I HAVE to avoid). This would cause me to feel nauseous and I would often get horrible migraines (a result of high blood sugar).

Insecurities From Diabetes

Dealing with both diabetes and my other mental health issues caused me to gain a ton of weight in the last fours years. I have gone through times where I lost the weight, then gained it back six months later.

It left me feeling very insecure, and like I had a bigger body than I actually do. I stopped taking photos of myself, and was mortified everytime I took a group photo with my friends. I found myself disgusted by my looks.

This led me to judge myself harshly when I deviated from my diet, and honestly probably pushed me to deviate more and more. The bad food was my comfort from my harsh criticism. It became a vicious cycle.

Healthy Living

Now, I try not to judge myself as harshly anymore. After beating myself up for so many years, I came to realize that I can find peace in this illness. I have managed it with diet alone and that is honestly a huge feat.

Most people who are diagnosed have to take either insulin shots or an insulin pill. I have pushed myself to find a healthy lifestyle that works for me. Once I did that, I started practicing accepting my flaws.

That is the hardest part of learning to love yourself, in my opinion. I also gathered a really strong support system that I go to almost every day when I am feeling super low or when I am feeling extremely insecure.

I also remind myself that no one is perfect, and we are all a work in progress. I have started putting little affirmations anywhere I can; I even made wallpaper affirmations for my phone!

Mental health is hard to handle when you are diabetic, but if you learn to love yourself, the process of managing it gets easier.

Read more of Michele’s inspiring posts at Life With Michele Renee, a lifestyle and wellness blog!

Interview: We Only Get One Body in Life

“We only get one body in life, so it makes sense to treat it well by fueling it with nutritious foods.” An interview with Dr. Lisal Folsom, who discusses optimal health, nutrition, and sustainable weight loss.

Interviewer: Cassie Jewell, LPC

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An Endocrinologist’s Thoughts On Health and Sustainable Weight Loss

On a typical day, what are your patients’ complaints and how do you resolve them?

As an endocrinologist, I care for patients with all types of gland and hormone disorders. The most common reasons patients come to see me include diabetes (both type 1 and type 2), concerns about growth and puberty, thyroid dysfunction, hirsutism (unwanted hair growth), polycystic ovarian syndrome, and adrenal disorders. I also provide gender-affirming hormone therapy for transgender individuals. Depending on the patient’s symptoms and diagnosis, I may order lab tests and/or radiology studies such as thyroid ultrasounds or bone age xrays as part of my evaluation. Once we have a diagnosis, I work with the patient to create a personalized plan for treatment and follow up.

What about common questions or concerns?

Regardless of the reason they’ve come to see me, many patients are concerned about fatigue and weight gain. Everyone loves to blame these symptoms on the thyroid gland, but there are many other possible contributors to both fatigue and weight gain, including lack of quality sleep, sleep apnea, suboptimal eating habits, and infrequent exercise.

How does diet impact health?

A balanced diet and good nutrition are essential for optimal health. The only way to nourish and fuel our bodies is through food, and multiple studies have shown the benefits of good nutrition on health. People who eat a diet composed of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins have lower blood pressure, better cholesterol, and decreased risk of obesity than those who follow a typical Western diet. There is a lot of research going on right now investigating the health effects of switching to a whole foods plant-based diet. A study comparing gut bacteria found that individuals following vegan and vegetarian diets had a more diverse selection of microbes in the intestines, which can lead to better health. Another study published in Clinical Nutrition this year found that people with high cholesterol had improvement in their cholesterol numbers when they followed a whole foods plant-based diet. Their cholesterol worsened when they switched back to a diet containing animal products and refined carbohydrates. We only get one body in life, so it makes sense to treat it well by fueling it with the healthiest, most nutritious foods.

What are the main risk factors for diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is an acquired metabolic disease associated with insulin resistance and high blood sugars. Until relatively recently this was a disease of adults, but in the past few years more and more children have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes as well, partly because of the increase in obesity. Risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes include being overweight or obese, carrying extra weight in the abdominal area, lack of regular physical activity, a family history of type 2 diabetes, and being diagnosed with prediabetes. Gestational diabetes during pregnancy is also a risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes later on. A person will not necessarily develop type 2 diabetes just by eating a lot of sugar, but a long-standing pattern of unhealthy eating, lack of exercise, and weight gain will certainly increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes down the road.

Can diabetes be treated with lifestyle changes?

Lifestyle changes are vital in diabetes treatment! Medicines can help to lower blood sugar, but the underlying cause of type 2 diabetes is insulin resistance, which is exacerbated by weight and lack of regular activity. We know that people who exercise on a regular basis tend to have lower blood pressure, better cholesterol, and are more likely to be at a weight considered to be healthy, than people who don’t exercise often. Part of the reason for this is that exercise improves the body’s sensitivity to insulin. When we exercise, our bodies don’t have to work as hard to turn the food we eat into energy and fuel for our cells. Studies have shown that people with type 2 diabetes who exercise after a meal have lower blood sugar levels than those who don’t. Exercise and a healthy diet are important for everyone, but these elements are especially crucial for people who are looking to improve their health.

Which is worse: Fat or sugar?

Ooh – tough question. I would say both and neither. Both fats and sugars come in healthy and unhealthy forms. Omega-3, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated fatty acids help lower cholesterol and decrease the risk of heart disease. These healthy fats are found in nuts, peanut butter, avocados, flaxseed, and olive, canola, and soybean oils. Some eggs contain omega-3 fatty acids as well, depending on whether the chickens that laid them were given supplementation. Unhealthy fats include saturated and trans fats. These types of fats are found in fatty cuts of meat, poultry skin, fried foods, high fat dairy products, processed and prepackaged foods, and solid oils such as shortening and lard.

Healthy sugars include those occurring naturally in fruits and vegetables. A good rule of thumb is to try to choose foods that are as close to their natural state as possible. For example, when you eat an apple, rather than drinking apple juice, you get the added benefits of the fiber from the apple, and vitamins from the skin. These added health benefits of eating whole fruits and vegetables allow the sugars to be absorbed more gradually by your body, and are lost when foods are processed.

What is one food you’d never eat and why?

Cracklins. This southern delicacy consists of fried pieces of pork fat and skin, flavored with Cajun spices. Although I’m sure they’re very tasty, they’re also oozing with saturated and trans fats, contain almost 500 calories per serving, and are high in sodium. You could eat an entire avocado and two slices of whole wheat toast for fewer calories. This alternative snack is not only delicious, it also comes with the added benefits of healthy fats, whole grains, and fiber.

If given the opportunity, is there anything you’d change about the current dietary recommendations?

The current dietary guidelines are a good place to start. They recommend eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, making at least half of our grains whole, and limiting saturated and trans fats, added sugars, and sodium. I wish they went a little further though, by emphasizing the health benefits of whole rather than processed foods, and offering alternative options for people looking to follow a plant-based diet. There are some really great dairy alternatives out there, including nut milks (almond, cashew, macadamia), soymilk, plant protein products, and tofu. Many of these are made without added sugar, and are fortified with calcium and vitamin D, so the nutritional content is quite similar to the animal-based versions.

What are your thoughts on the obesity epidemic in America?

Obesity is a growing problem in our country, and it’s going to keep getting worse unless we as a society make some major changes. Obesity is a multifactorial disease, with many different levels of influence. Personal dietary choices have a role of course, but so does the environment in which people live. If a family lives in a food desert, and the only place to buy groceries is the convenience store where one banana and a 6-pack of ramen noodles each cost $1, parents are veritably forced to choose the less healthy, but inexpensive and filling options to feed their children. Many children in the U.S. eat both breakfast and lunch at school through the federally subsidized National School Lunch Program. This program is underfunded, and as such is unable to provide the highest quality, most nutritious food for the children who need it most. There are so many barriers to optimal health that exist at societal and cultural levels; it’s going to take a lot of work to tackle obesity. It’s possible, but change will need to happen from the top down.

What advice do you give to patients who are trying to lose weight?

At the end of the day it’s all about math: Energy in = energy out. If we put more calories into our bodies than we burn, our weight will go up. Alternatively, if we burn more calories than we eat, our weight will go down. Metabolism plays a role, certainly, and we all know people who can eat a dozen donuts without gaining a pound, which is just not fair, but overall consistent, purposeful, portion control is the key to sustainable weight loss. Exercise helps, but it’s really hard to burn enough calories by exercising to offset what we eat. A typical adult woman walking on a treadmill for 30 minutes burns around 150 calories. As a comparison, a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Money contains 1,160 calories. You would need to spend nearly 4 hours on the treadmill to burn off that pint of deliciousness, and nobody has time for that. It makes more sense to limit your total calorie intake through portion control and careful meal planning. Everyone should have a treat now and then, just plan for them ahead of time and pay attention to the nutrition label including serving size.

What’s one thing you wish everyone knew about hormones?

It’s probably not your thyroid. Seriously though, endocrinology is an amazing branch of medicine. Since our glands make hormones that then flow into the bloodstream, they have effects on so many different parts of the body. Endocrinologists have to consider the entire person when making a diagnosis, and this makes the field both challenging and exciting.

As an endocrinologist, what are the most useful things you’ve learned?

Weight loss is hard, but possible. Diabetes sucks, but you are strong, so don’t let it take over your life. Everybody loves to talk about food. Patients and physicians work best as a team. Good health is priceless.


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Dr. Lisal Folsom is a board-certified physician who specializes in endocrinology, diabetes, and metabolism. She also provides gender-affirming hormone therapy for transgender individuals. Dr. Folsom’s medical research has been published in the academic journals Endocrine Practice, The Journal of the South Carolina Medical Association, Current Osteoporosis Reports, Journal of Adolescent Health, and Endocrinology & Metabolism Clinics. She has been practicing for nine years.

Sleep Deprivation: What Dreams May… Cure?

What happens to your mind and body when you’re sleep-deprived? Poor-quality sleep is linked to a variety of health conditions, including obesity and heart disease. Poor sleep leads to cognitive impairment and poor judgment. A lack of sleep can even lead to schizophrenia-like symptoms! Learn why sleep is essential for health and well-being.

By Cassie Jewell, LPC

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According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, about 10% of Americans struggle with chronic insomnia and up to 35% of Americans experience insomnia at least occasionally. I’m part of the 10%. I’ve spent countless nights tossing and turning, dreading the obnoxious sound of “quantum bells” (my cell phone alarm) as daylight slowly creeps in. Due to this, I’ve done quite a bit of research on the subject. (And as a clinician, it’s important for me to know the relationship between restful sleep and mental health so I can educate my clients.)

Sleep recharges us; it makes it possible for us to remember what we learned throughout the day.

We all know that basic sleep hygiene is essential (i.e. having a regular sleep schedule, refraining from watching TV or reading in bed, avoiding alcohol before bedtime, etc.) And if you struggle with insomnia, you’ve probably heard of sleep medications and supplements like Ambien, trazodone, or melatonin. We also know how vital sleep is to health and wellness. Sleep significantly impacts mood, energy levels, and overall well-being. Sleep recharges us; it makes it possible for us to remember what we learned throughout the day.

Knowing how crucial sleep is for both physical and mental fitness, I set out to explore what happens when we don’t get enough. What exactly does a lack of sleep do to a person? I sifted through the research to learn more about the impact of sleep deprivation. This post explores how sleep deprivation affects physical health, perceptions, memory, and critical thinking.

SLEEP AND YOUR PHYSICAL HEALTH

Sleep deprivation is associated with signs of aging

Sleep deprivation has been linked to aging skin. One study found that poor-quality sleepers had more fine lines, uneven pigmentation, and reduced elasticity.

It makes sense that chronic sleep deprivation is associated with signs of aging; sleep is needed for overall rejuvenation (mind and body), which includes skin cell renewal. For smooth and supple skin, high-quality sleep is essential.

Snoring and sleep deprivation are linked to obesity

A 2016 study looked at the relationship between sleep characteristics and body size/weight. Snoring was associated with having a higher BMI, a larger waist, and more body fat. (It should be noted that snoring doesn’t cause obesity; the two are simply related.)

Poor sleep quality and shorter durations of sleep were linked to larger body size and more body fat. The relationship between sleep and obesity is further explored in the next few paragraphs.

Sleep deprivation is related to weight loss and appetite

If you’re dieting, you’re more likely to lose body fat when you’re getting adequate sleep. Researchers studied participants who slept for either an average of seven and a half hours or five and a quarter hours per night over a 14-day period. Calorie consumption was the same; participants lost similar amounts of weight. However, when participants slept more, they lost more body fat; in fact, about half of the weight they lost was fat. Sleep-deprived participants lost only a pound of fat; the other five pounds were fat-free body mass. Furthermore, it was found that sleep helps with appetite control; this is due to ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite and promotes fat storage. Sleep-deprived participants had higher levels of ghrelin.

If you’re watching what you eat, incorporate healthy sleep habits to maximize your efforts; adequate sleep is needed for optimal weight loss.

Sleep affects our food choices

Other studies have examined specific the ways sleep deprivation affects food choices and calorie intake. Sleep deprivation is associated with especially poor food choices the day following poor-quality or no sleep. One study found that sleep deprivation led to strong cravings for junk food. The researchers measured increased activity in the part of the brain that responds to rewards, but decreased activity in the “decision-making” part of the brain. Study participants choose unhealthy items (i.e. pizza, donuts) over fruits and vegetables.

Another study looked at total calorie intake; sleep-deprived participants consumed an extra 385 calories per day. They also ate higher-fat foods. Additionally, researchers found that a sleep-deprived person purchased items that were higher in calories when grocery shopping.

A 2016 study looked at the relationship between sleep deprivation and the consumption of high-calorie, sugar-sweetened caffeinated beverages in a sample of 18,000 adults. It was found that adults who averaged less than five hours of sleep per night were more likely to consume sugary drinks like soda or energy drinks than their well-rested counterparts. The researchers weren’t able to determine whether drinking caffeinated beverages caused people to sleep less or whether being sleep-deprived caused people to crave more sugar and caffeine; it’s likely that both are true.

Without high-quality sleep, it’s difficult to lose body fat.

Regarding obesity, sleep deprivation plays a significant role. A lack of sleep causes us to feel hungry. We crave junk foods and consume more calories. At the same time, sleep deprivation promotes fat storage while decreasing our energy levels. Without high-quality sleep, it’s difficult to lose body fat.

If you struggle with chronic insomnia, make an active decision to make healthy eating a habit; you’ll be less likely to submit to your cravings. Visit the grocery store only when you’re well-rested. Know that you may not feel like exercising; practice determination. Be mindful to counter some of the health risks associated with sleep deprivation.

Sleep deprivation is related to heart disease, hypertension, and stroke (especially if you’re a woman)

In addition to obesity, sleep deprivation is associated with heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke. A lack of sleep takes a toll on the heart. In a recent study, researchers looked at 24-hour shift workers. It was found that sleep deprivation led to a significant increase in cardiac contractility, blood pressure, and heart rate. Furthermore, study participants experienced thyroid changes and an increase in cortisol (the stress hormone).

Research also indicates that chronic sleep deprivation and disrupted sleep are linked to an increased risk of developing or dying from coronary heart disease or stroke. Diabetes and hypertension are associated with sleep deprivation as well.

A lack of sleep may impact women more than men. Researchers found that women who got less than eight hours of sleep per night were at a higher risk of heart disease and other heart-related problems when compared to men who got the same amount of sleep.

Chronic sleep deprivation is related to reduced immune function

Have you ever noticed that you heal slowly or get sick more often when you’re sleep deprived? According to research, chronic sleep deprivation is associated with reduced immune function. If you’re not regularly getting at least six to seven hours of sleep, you’re more susceptible to illness. Your immune system won’t be as effective at eliminating viruses and bacterial infections.

Chronic sleep deprivation is associated with bone loss

Sleep even affects your bones. One study found that chronic sleep deprivation was associated with a loss of bone mass (in rats, at least). The rats underwent sleep restriction measures for three months. A lack of sleep led to significant decreases in bone density, volume, and thickness.

SLEEP AND YOUR BRAIN

Sleep deprivation is associated with increased pain sensitivity

The first part of this post examined sleep’s impact on physical health; the next half will explore how sleep affects the mind, including the way we sense and perceive the world around us. Research indicates that sleep deprivation and/or disruption increase sensitivity to pain. Interestingly, in one study, stimulants like caffeine had the ability to “normalize” the pain sensation (meaning it would feel the way it would with adequate sleep).

Sleep and chronic pain seem to be intricately connected, but the relationship is not fully understood; up to 88% of individuals with chronic pain report sleep issues and nearly 50% of individuals with insomnia have chronic pain..

A lack of sleep affects the way you hear and process sounds

In addition to the sensation of touch, sleep deprivation affects the perception of sound. A lack of sleep impairs central auditory processing (CAP). CAP is crucial for aspects of hearing such as language comprehension, identifying sounds, and recognizing patterns.

In one study, participants took a longer time identifying sounds after being deprived of sleep for 24 hours. It appeared there was a “transfer delay” (from hearing to identifying and then interpreting). To be effective, CAP requires alertness and concentration.

Sleep deprivation affects the formation of memories

We know that sleep deprivation causes cognitive impairment; the brain can only store so much information before it must recalibrate. During sleep, memories are encoded; the brain “consolidates” memories by strengthening them and transforming them from short-term into long-term memories. Without sleep, long-term memories can’t form. Short-term memories are lost and/or altered. Even procedural memories are impacted by sleep deprivation. A lack of sleep leads to forgetfulness and an inability to retain new information.

Sleep affects the way we interpret emotions

Sleep deprivation impairs your ability to interpret facial expressions. A recent study found that a lack of sleep made it difficult for participants to recognize the facial expressions of happiness or sadness. Interestingly, the ability to detect anger, fear, surprise and disgust was not affected. This suggests we’re biologically wired to recognize the emotions related to survival. The researchers hypothesized that the brain preserves functions that perceive life-threatening stimuli while sacrificing functions associated with empathy, bonding, and friendship.

“Real life” implications: If you’re majorly sleep-deprived, you could misinterpret the intentions of others, negatively impacting relationships with co-workers, family, friends, and others. Furthermore, you could read people wrong or miss important social cues; you might not respond appropriately or you could seem lacking in empathy.

When someone is sleep deprived, they’re slower to adopt another’s perspective

In addition to perception and memory formation, sleep deprivation impacts decision-making skills and thoughts, including the ability to accurately assess a situation.

If you have chronic insomnia, you might experience interpersonal problems.

In 2015, researchers hypothesized that sleep deprivation would impair the capacity to recognize sarcasm. Study results didn’t support the hypothesis, but the research generated an unexpected outcome. It was found that someone who was sleep-deprived was slower to adopt another person’s perspective. Implications? If you have chronic insomnia, you might experience interpersonal problems.

Sleep deprivation affects our moral judgment

Sleep deprivation affects moral judgment. In one study, participants were sleep deprived (awake for 53 continuous hours) and then faced with moral dilemmas. They had difficulty solving the dilemmas and making appropriate judgments. Other studies support this as well; a lack of sleep is related to decreased moral awareness. When you’re faced with a tough decision, especially one that involves ethics or morals, be sure to get adequate sleep. You can’t always trust your moral compass.

Sleep deprivation is linked to impaired decision making

Moral decisions are taxing if you’re sleep deprived… the opposite is true with risky ones. Sleep deprivation alters areas in the brain that assess positive and negative outcomes; sensitivity to rewards is enhanced while attention to negative consequences is diminished.

If you haven’t slept, tough decisions can wait.

Researchers found that when gambling, sleep-deprived individuals were more optimistic about their odds of winning. Another study found that sleep deprivation made it difficult for study participants to come to a quick decision when pressured. Sleep-deprived participants also made more mistakes. If you haven’t slept, tough decisions can wait.

A lack of sleep affects optimism

If you’re not getting enough sleep, you could lose your ability to remain positive-minded. Research indicates that individuals with insomnia have lower rates of self-esteem and optimism. In 2017, researchers found that sleep-deprived study participants were less likely to focus on positive stimuli. An inability to think positively is also a symptom of depression.

A lack of sleep can lead to schizophrenia-like symptoms

Sleep deprivation can lead to perceptual distortions, cognitive disorganization, and anhedonia (an inability to feel pleasure).In a 2014 study, participants experienced psychosis after staying awake for 24 hours. The sleep-deprived individuals reported attention deficits and being more sensitive to light, color, and brightness. They exhibited disorganized speech, which is a common symptom of schizophrenia. Participants also reported an altered sense of time and smell. Some of them actually believed they were able to read thoughts; others noticed an altered body perception. Implications? If you miss a night (or two) of sleep, don’t be surprised when you hear voices or when your reality is somewhat altered.

In conclusion, sleep deprivation, especially when it’s chronic, is detrimental to your health. Based on my review of the research, poor-quality sleep can adversely impact your skin, your weight, your cardiovascular system, your immune system, and your bones. (It should be noted that I barely skimmed the surface of an immense body of scientific data on sleep.)

Sleep is also related to brain health. Sleep deprivation impairs sensory perceptions, memory formation, the ability to assess your environment, moral awareness, critical thinking skills, and mood. Sleep deprivation can even induce psychosis.

If you’re like me (the one out of 10 Americans with chronic insomnia), in addition to practicing good sleep hygiene, go ahead and Google “CBT for sleep.” Research suggests that for some, CBT is more effective and longer-lasting than sleep medication. Do a little bit of research. CBT is not a quick fix for insomnia, but it’s worth a try; and your health and wellness are definitely worth it!

References

Alexandre, C., Latremoliere, A., Ferreira, A., Miracca, G., Yamamoto, M., Scammell, T. E., &, Woolf, C. (2017). Decreased alertness due to sleep loss increases pain sensitivity in mice. Nature Medicine, 23(6), 768–774. http://doi.org/10.1038/nm.4329

American Academy of Sleep Medicine. (2009, June 16). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Is An Effective Treatment For Chronic Insomnia. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 21, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090609072709.htm

American Academy of Sleep Medicine. (2007, March 2). Sleep Deprivation Affects Moral Judgment, Study Finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 10, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/03/070301081831.htm

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Chapman, C., Nilsson, E., Nilsson, V., Cedernaes, J, Rångtell, F., Vogel, H., Dickson, S., Broman, J., Hogenkamp, P., Schiöth, H., &, Benedict, C. (2013). Acute sleep deprivation increases food purchasing in men. Obesity, DOI: 10.1002/oby.20579

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Guest Post: You Don’t Have to Exercise

Exercise is a choice. Trevor Jewell, a certified personal trainer, explains that while you don’t have to exercise, you should definitely consider it.

By Trevor Jewell, ACSM Certified Personal Trainer

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You will definitely get more gratification from grabbing a pint of ice cream and putting your feet up for a Netflix binge. Obviously, we don’t exercise because we have to. No one is holding a gun to your head while you sweat and gasp for air in a crowded gym as the seconds of your life tick away on a treadmill timer. We exercise because we want to! We want to feel good, look good, and live long and happy lives free of pain and injury, so exercise becomes worth it.

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Many of my clients have told me during their consultations that they don’t like exercise. Cardio is boring, weights are intimidating, ab work hurts too much, the list goes on and on. But all of them, every single one, enjoys the feeling of having completed a tough and energizing workout. The important difference is, after discussing their goals, they have input on their workout plan in the form of choice.

Hate cardio? No problem! I’ll offer you routines with moderate intensity interval training that mimics the aerobic effect of jogging. Weightlifting too intimidating? We’ll try out different bodyweight routines that incorporate resistance training without ever touching anything but the floor. Ab work hurts? How about a few functional fitness games that utilize your core without shredding it like an 8 minute ab routine from Women’s Health magazine. For my advanced clients, I plan days where they get to use what they’ve learned and choose their own workouts while I simply help align their choices with their goals and provide coaching as needed.

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The point is, almost everyone performs better in an environment where they don’t feel trapped and locked into a routine. This is why hiring a personal trainer can be a truly liberating experience as people realize they never have to touch an elliptical again if they don’t want to, but can still lose weight! If you are dragging your feet on the way to the gym to half-heartedly complete yet another round of the same old routine, it’s time to incorporate more choice into your workout.

It should come as no surprise that freedom of choice can lead to better results outside of the gym as well. In a recent study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, scientists discovered a direct link between having choice in a workout and making healthier diet selections. Two test groups were given instructions to exercise and then allowed to eat at the same buffet. One group was forced to complete an exact routine, while the other was allowed to choose their type of exercise, starting time, and even background music. Upon reviewing their trips to the buffet, the authors discovered that those with more choice in their workouts consistently ate less calories (587 versus 399 kcal) and chose healthier foods than their counterparts!

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If you’ve ever piled three extra slices of pizza on your plate as a reward for going to the gym that morning, you know exactly how the “forced” participants were feeling. Treating an exercise routine as something you have to “get out of the way” or “get over with” will cause you to feel trapped, and to disassociate your workouts with your life. Our goal as personal trainers is not to force people to get healthy, but to get them to associate an energizing workout in the gym with the overall goal of a healthy lifestyle. We don’t have to exercise, we choose a higher quality of life, and have fun doing it!

 

Trevor Jewell is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer with EnDevor Health: Connecting doctors, exercise physiologists and personal trainers to truly implement Exercise is Medicine in patients’ lives, located in Columbus, OH