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The link between Neuroscience, sleep and happiness

October 24, 2022

The link between Neuroscience, sleep and happiness

Have you ever heard someone say “did you get out of the wrong side of the bed this morning”. While this might not be the best thing to say to a person, we often make assumptions that someone is unhappy because they didn’t get enough sleep. 

This assumption isn’t far from the truth. Now as a Happiness Hacker you may not be surprised to realise this topic sparks my interest. Pair that with the fact that my brain is in neuroscience mode, as it’s a topic I have dedicated the last few months to at university, and we have a recipe for some interesting exploration. 

Let’s unpack a little about how neuroscience, sleep and some basic tips can improve your sleep quality and your life.

What is Neuroscience? 

According to Laura Freberg (2019) in Discovering Behavioral Neuroscience: an Introduction to Biological Psychology, “behavioural neuroscience attempts to explain how the brain and the nervous system impact our behaviour, including vision, perception, hunger, sleep, emotion, and movement”. 

To define it simply, why we do what we do” and how our brain reacts to what we are doing in our everyday lives. 

Sleep and Neuroscience 

I’ve been battling with my current Neuroscience assignment (as part of my psychology studies)  which explores the question:

“Can Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) delivered via a mobile phone application provide a scalable and accessible means to treat insomnia?”. 

Now before you switch off cause it feels heavy...let me share with you what I've learnt that may help you if you struggle to sleep in peace. 

Sleep has many benefits for your brain, it impacts how you perform mentally and physically throughout the day, not to mention how you feel.

Science shows that consistent quality sleep enhances your ability to consolidate your long and short term memory, helps you regulate emotion and restore your body's energy reserves.

When someone struggles to sleep over an extended period of time, neuroscience theory suggests this is due to what is termed hyperarousal of the Central Nervous System.

What often causes this phenomenon  can be things like environmental change, drug use, discomfort, hormonal imbalance, stress or a combination of these.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is considered the gold standard treatment for insomnia.  CBT has shown to deliver marked improvements in sleep, productivity, mental and physical health and life satisfaction.

Studying in the park on a sunny day with black dog.

So, I wanted to share a couple of things that you can do based on CBT that might support a positive shift in how you sleep. 

3 tips to help you get better sleep

Firstly, look at your lighting. 

You may know our body clock works off a circadian rhythm.  As species we are designed to be active during the light hours and sleep during the dark hours. Darkness is what stimulates our brain's ability to produce melatonin, a hormone that signals to our body it’s time to rest. 

Exposure to white light can block melatonin production and interfere with your sleep and awake cycle.

So, consider the light you expose yourself to at least an hour before bed. Phones, TVs, Laptops, even the white lights in your home can all impact the melatonin production process.

Reducing your exposure is likely to deliver better quality sleep. One of my little hacks is having salt lamps and normal lamps around the house  which enables me to minimise the use of the main lighting.

The other option is to buy blue blocker glasses and put them on an hour before bed. You can still read next to your lamp but these filter the white light.

Secondly, try keeping a sleep diary or use a sleep tracking app to become aware of your sleeping patterns and disruptions. 

Where there is a disrupted night, consider what you did in the hours before bed. Identify any triggers and experiment with a pre-sleep ritual that works for you. Something that signals to your brain it’s time to wind down now.

Lastly, I’m throwing this one in for good measure. 

Get your phone out of your bedroom, buy an old alarm clock and leave your phone off at night in your kitchen. This is a game changer my son and I live by.

Small changes can have a big impact on how we sleep, our mood, our emotions and our energy. 


Looking for more ways to inject more of what matters into your day? Why not take a listen to the Hacking Happy Podcast here.