Sleep Yourself Happy: Get the Rest of Your Life

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It Improves Your Mood

No one has to tell you that when you toss and turn all night long you can feel anxious, irritable, and crabby the next day. But you may not know why: When you're sleep-deprived the area of your brain responsible for judgment and rational thought -- the prefrontal cortex -- basically shuts down. But at the same time the part of the brain that handles emotions -- the amygdala -- goes into overdrive. In fact, brain scans done by scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, found that when you're not well rested your amygdala is about 60 percent more active than it is when you've logged a solid night's sleep.

One more reason you might be Miss Cranky Pants: When you don't get enough sleep you miss out on significant REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is when you're most likely to dream. Why would that make you grouchy? Dreaming helps you process negative emotions and sort through all the things that irked you during the day: the salad dressing you dripped on your silk blouse, the fight you had with your husband. As the night wears on and your brain files away those annoying experiences, your dreams become more positive. So, if you don't get enough sleep, you miss out on those last beneficial dream cycles.

It Boosts Coping Skills

Have you ever noticed that you tend to have anxiety dreams when you're dealing with a major life event? It's not unusual for brides to dream about wedding disasters or for expectant mothers to have nightmares about a baby being lost or hurt. Although such dreams can be unsettling, they are actually quite helpful. "As you sleep your mind is reviewing, revising, and rehearsing the events of your waking life," says Dr. Cartwright. This process helps you better understand what you're currently going through, increasing your ability to deal with the situation.

It's also common for people in the throes of a life change to dream about other anxious times in their past. A person starting a new job, for example, might dream about the night she was in a car accident. That's because as you dream your mind sorts through your memory bank to home in on other periods when you felt the same way you do now. "Those past situations can help us figure out how to deal with the current challenge," Dr. Cartwright says. But whether you're dealing with a major event or just everyday stuff, getting a good night's rest is key to making you feel in control of your life.

Continued on page 4:  Smart Sleep Strategies


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