Significance of Sleep for Mental Well-being and Physiological Functions

Importance of Sleep for Mental Health & Physiological Functions

Abstract: This piece focuses on the significance of sleep and how it affects the mental and physiological well-being of an individual. Sleep, a basic human need, is often taken for granted which leads to various bodily imbalances. It also examines the Transtheoretical Model of Change that is widely used in tracking healthy habitual changes in an individual in order to get to attain the acquired change. This model facilitates tracking of various changes and can help understand your actions and goals better. Lastly, the strategies that promote and barriers that prevent this health behavior change is also discussed.

Sleep Matters: The Significance of Sleep for Mental Well-being and Physiological Functions

In Lo et al.’s article, we gain an insight into how sleep and cognition have a strong connection and in what way does this affect adults in their cognition, subsequently leading to a stable or unstable state of mental well-being. Remarkably abnormal (either too less or too many) hours of sleep in adults, leads to poorer cognitive functioning, effects verbal and working memory capacity which can lead to impairment in decision-making and multiple-domain performance, namely biological, cognitive, developmental, social and personality, and psychological and physiological health. Findings by Lo and his colleagues state that self-reported abnormal sleep durations facilitates cognitive aging in early adulthood. Optimum amount of sleep, in various stages of development, is significant for vital functioning of the brain and cognitive processes throughout the lifespan. This can be well explained by taking into account, Alzheimer’s disease, wherein the early symptoms of this disorder are major alterations in the duration of sleep, which consequently leads to impaired cognitive symptoms.

Lo et al. describe short and long hours of sleep as 5 hours or less for the former and 9 hours or more for the latter. Poor performances were recorded with respect to the following five cognitive tasks: multiple cognitive domains, executive functions, verbal memory, working memory capacity, and speed of processing. Results establish that there is a possibility of poorer cognitive functioning in short sleepers by 1.27-1.56 times, and in long sleepers by 1.43-1.74. The above-mentioned numbers are in respect to normal sleepers. Most of the findings remained true to hypothesis when cross-sectional studies were used.

Short sleep has a negative impact on the functioning of the brain and other physiological processes. It has been linked to quick decline in cognitive scores and increased rates of cortical atrophy in various lobes (namely parietal, temporal, and frontal) of the brain, causing impairment in complex visual processes. In order to be healthy, mentally and physically, one needs to have a good sleep cycle with sufficient hours of sleep that an adult usually requires, no more no less. This will help in a significant decrease in the cognitive shortcomings that appear with aging.

In Spiegel et al.’s article, there is an interesting use of the phrase ‘sleep debt’ which makes it sound as serious as sleep deprivation is. Apparently, over time, i.e., from the 1910’s to the current years, there has been a fair amount of decrease in normal sleep hours (from 9 hours per night to 7.5 hours). The relation between sleep debt and impaired metabolic and endocrine functions is linear. Impaired glucose-tolerance of a 1.60% per minute is significantly lower than the normal rate of 2.2%-2.9% in fit adults. There are major abnormal alterations in the profile of plasma cortisol and free cortisol in the saliva if there is a sleep debt condition, with the rate being about six times lower than normal (0.07 [0.13] vs 0.43 nmol/L [0.13] every hour). There are high risks of the development of disorders like hypertension, obesity, and insulin resistance. There is an increased functioning of the sympathetic tone than the parasympathetic tone being one of the main causes of impaired cardiac functioning and fluctuations in blood pressure, leading to high blood pressure. Thus, it is important to know that one’s physiological health has a linear relation with one’s sleep.

Transtheoretical Model Stages of Change- Developed by Prochaska and DiClemente.

This model of change mentions that an individual goes through five stages of change (termination is not used very often in terms of changes in behaviors related to health) and focuses on the concept of decision-making and deliberate changes. In the process of any change, a person is expected to go through these five stages: precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance. An individual can enter any stage and go back to an earlier stage, or other possibilities otherwise. It is a cyclic model and does not follow a linear pathway. Altering one’s eating and sleeping habits plays a major role in most of our lives to obtain a healthy lifestyle. This model can be used to know what stage you are at in your cycle of action to acquire your ultimate goal of living a healthier lifestyle.

  • Precontemplation: Individuals in this stage are unaware of the negative influences of their behavior and have no organizational plan to take action to change their behavior (at least within the next 6 months).
  • Contemplation: Individuals in this stage have a plan to change their behavior in the near future (at least within the next 6 months). By this stage, people are aware of their behavior being problematic and intend to start working towards a healthy behavior, knowing all the pros and cons of the same.
  • Preparation: Individuals in this stage have an intension of taking action towards the healthy behavior in the next 30 days. They have the belief that the change in behavior would lead to a healthy life.
  • Action: Individuals in this stage have worked towards the change in behavior, very recently (within the past 6 months) and intend to continue the pattern of behavior change.
  • Maintenance: Individuals in this stage have been in practice and control of their changed behavior for more than six months and avoid relapses of the earlier stages.

Strategies to promote the health behavior change (sleep):

  • Chant the name of god before sleeping, it helps you have a stable and calm state of mind.
  • Use essential oils (Lavender oil, Tea tree oil, etc.).
  • Meditation
  • The kind of mattress and the pillow that are used matters too. A memory foam pillow is recommended for the purpose of sleeping.
  • Avoid being virtually exposed to electronic screens an hour before sleeping.

Barriers that prevent the health behavior change (sleep):

  • Mismanagement of time.
  • Some people always choose to be productive and resting or sleeping is secondary for them.
  • A lot of patience is required for meditation since it shows result over time.

    1. June C. Lo, John A, Groeger, Grand H. Cheng, Derk-Jan Dijk, Michael W.L. Chee. (January 2016), Self-reported sleep duration and cognitive performance in older adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis, Sleep Medicine (Vol. 17, pp. 87-98)
    2. Posterior Cortical Atrophy, Weill Institute of Neurosciences, UCSF. Retrieved from
    3. Karine Spiegel, Rachel Leproult BS, Dr. Eve Van Cauter. (1999, October 23), Impact of sleep debt on metabolic and endocrine function, THE LANCET, 354(9188), 1435-1439.
    4. Theories and Applications, Theory at a Glance (2005), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, (pp. 15).
    5. Hyde, M. (2020, May 4), Best Mattresses of 2020, Early bird by AMERISLEEP. Retrieved from

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