Insomnia - Lack of Sleep and its Impact

When Sleep Deprivation Impairs Mental, Physical and Emotional Functioning.

Michelle Keir-Sanderson

2/3/20245 min read

When Sleep Deprivation Impairs Mental, Physical and Emotional Functioning.

Insomnia! We have all been there! After having only two - or three - hours sleep, we find ourselves feeling horrid the next day. Our heads hurt, our eyes are fuzzy, our body aches and our concentration is poor. Typically, we are grumpy and short fused. Each step we take feels like our legs are loaded with a heavy sack of rocks. Silly errors and mishaps occur more frequently - like putting our keys in the fridge or knocking over our coffee cup. Regular hits of caffeine become the 'go to' just to get through the day.

So, if the short-term effects of sleep deprivation have this effect on us, what happens when lack of sleep occurs more frequently and chronically?

Brain and Body Impact of Insomnia

Significant sleep deprivation has serious health consequences. Some of these include:

  • Elevated blood pressure

  • Weakened immune system

  • Increases in weight

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Slowed brain functioning

  • Mood disorders.

  • Stroke

  • Impaired memory

  • Heart attack

  • Diabetes

Sometimes our sleep disturbance can be resulting from a physical cause, such as sleep apnoea and medication side effects. Quite often the connection is with our emotional and mental state. Stress, anxiety and depression being the common culprits behind our inability to fall asleep and/or stay asleep. This is insomnia.

The Vicious Cycle of Insomnia

There is a Catch 22 that occurs in a lot of situations. Insomnia can be a symptom of a mental health issue – and it also can be a cause of one. This unfortunate vicious cycle perpetuates with one feeding the other.

A Familiar Scenario

How it Begins

You find yourself gradually having an increase in life stressors. Workload pressures, financial concerns, or sometimes conflict with your spouse. Naturally, you start feeling 'wound up' and highly anxious. Night after night you lay awake thinking of ways to ease your burdens and find solutions, or ruminating on how unjust the situation is.

The Impact

This heightened stress then starts impacting on your physical wellbeing - affecting hormones, blood pressure, eating habits, and overall physical wellbeing). In turn, this also impacts on your sleep cycle. You start obsessively worrying about the lack of sleep you are having, adding further to the stress you are already experiencing. The hours ticking by on the clock agitates you further. Most nights you struggle to fall asleep, and when you finally do, you wake frequently throughout. When morning comes, removing yourself from bed is a major effort. You are exhausted.

The Consequence

Productivity and your ability to regulate your emotions decreases. Mood shifts frequently occur, and you become easily agitated and tearful over minor inconveniences. Your focus and motivation is depleted. You have no energy for 'self-care', and that includes eating healthily, exercising and socialising. You slump on the couch and grab the easiest option - convenient, nutritionally void food. The lack of exercise and poor eating make you feel even worse. Depression starts to move in and with this comes the alteration of serotonin levels, impacting on your quality of sleep.

And so it goes. The cycle is compounded. You can see how the vicious cycle of insomnia is fed by multiple issues (stress, lack of exercise, diet, anxiety, depression). These all cumulate and negatively impact on your sleep. It is important to be aware of how each of these concrete poor sleeping.

What are the Symptoms

Insomnia symptoms may include:

  • Difficulty falling asleep

  • Broken sleep (waking often)

  • Early waking

  • Feeling exhausted

  • Irritability

  • Depressed mood

  • Anxiety

  • Lacking focus

  • Difficulty with attention and concentration

  • Worrying about sleep

Tips for Remedying Sleep Issues.

If your sleep is routinely disturbed, try some or all of the following:

Mental Distractions:

Place effort in focusing away from the cycling thoughts that cause you distress and anxiety. These increase your heart rate and breathing - so you may as well go for a run! Instead try to divert your mind to thinking of a topic using the alphabet (e.g. a-z of naming cities, animals), counting backwards from 300, recalling a significant pleasant memory in detail (include who was present, what was said, what you wore, the weather...).

Sleep Podcasts/Apps:

There are many sleep podcasts (stories) and relaxing meditation or music apps that assist in inducing sleep. Find ones that fit you - readers tone of voice, content, sound consistency.

‘To Do’ List:

At least 1 hour prior to bed, write a ‘to do’ list. This helps relieve anxiety about trying to recall things to be done that swirl around in your head. Put the list away with the resolution that nothing needs to be done until the morning. Give your worries some perspective - realistically, what can be done at 3am in the morning? Tell yourself you’ll deal with the issue at 8am.


Find a sleep routine - set a time for bed and put into place things that slow down your body and mind. This may include warm showers, reading a book, listening to talk back radio, relaxing activities like crosswords or craft, drinking warm milk. Try to get up around the same time every day even on the weekend.

Avoid these:

Try to avoid heavy evening meals, caffeine (e.g. coffee, chocolate), exercise too close to bedtime, blue light emissions (e.g. phones, iPad), naps in the day, sleeping in on days off, alcohol & excessive liquid intake prior to bed. All of these things interfere with quality of sleep.


Turn your clock around - the more you watch it, the more anxious you become. Take away any excess bedding that will make you too warm. If you are awake for more than 30 minutes, it is actually better to remove yourself from your bed and go to another room. Keep the lighting dimly lit. Do a quiet activity. For example, crosswords, read a magazine, fold clothes - nothing involving electronic devices. Return to bed after 20-30 minutes.

Seek Professional Support:

Talk to a counsellor to have help with developing coping strategies to deal with the symptoms and help identify the underlying causes of your insomnia. You may also want to talk with your doctor and a sleep specialist.

Get Checked:

It is important to rule out any physical reasons for sleep disturbance - such as hormones, vitamin/mineral deficiencies. So have a chat to your doctor. Sometimes to break the cycle, sleep medication is required. This may be natural over-the-counter supplements or prescribed medication (e.g. anxiolytics). These are to be used temporarily to help re-adjust your sleeping patterns, not as a remedy.

Sleep is Fundamental.

Having adequate sleep is an important factor in our ability to remain resilient, deal with adversity and life demands. It is fundamental to our overall emotional, physical and mental wellbeing. When it becomes an issue, it is important to prioritise finding solutions.

If you are finding it difficult to cope with life stressors, contact EMCS for an appointment.

Downloadable eBook - 10 Proven Methods for Overcoming ANXIETY

Downloadable eBook - 10 Proven Approaches for Conquering STRESS