Getting Back to Basics: Sleeping, Eating and Hydrating Your Way to an Improved Mood

Getting Back to Basics: Sleeping, Eating and Hydrating Your Way to an Improved Mood

drinking waterTransitioning from summer to fall is not easy, especially for adolescents and young adults. The school year starts, homework and commitments pile up, extra-curricular activities commence in full swing, alarm clock wakeups will be adjusted, meals may be eaten on the run or not at all, and now that the weather changes we might not be so prone to drink water. Therefore, now, more than ever, is the perfect time to pay more attention to the body’s physiological needs, particularly sleep hygiene, food & water intake.


All three can play an integral part in mood regulation. When one of my patients reports mood dysregulation, or is going through a rough time, my assessment of the issue at hand always includes a run down of what I refer to as “the basics”: Did they sleep enough, too little, or too much? Did they eat? Are they hydrated?

Although dysregulation is, of course, not solely based upon physiological causes and I have been asked questions like “what does my argument with my mom have to do with whether or not I had dinner last night?” The answer is always, “More than you think”. While anyone’s pain and dysregulation should always be validated, it is important to look at the physiological basics. Quite simply, they matter.


While eating a meal to regulate blood sugar won’t necessarily cure or fix whatever is going on to make you upset, it may help you feel that much better and help you react to the situation more effectively. It also may help regulate emotions, focus better, be more interpersonally affective, and enhance mood. Ever hear of the term “Hangry”? It stands for Hungry and Angry and its based on fact. If you are mindful of when you tend to get your most irritated, chances are it may be when you have gone too long without a substantial meal.


  1. Eat breakfast within an hour of awakening. This will boost your metabolism, help regulate blood sugar, energize you, and wake you up!
  2. Chose a combination of complex carbohydrates, protein, and a source of healthy fat.
  3. Eat often: 3 meals and 2 snacks a day will keep your blood sugar stabilized, hunger levels low, and energy high.
  4. I recommend my patients always carry a snack on them, such as a protein bar, fruit or some nuts and crackers. Always be prepared.
  5. Eat MINDFULLY. Mindful eating is intuitive eating, and the DBT skill of mindfulness should absolutely carry over into meal times. Be aware that you are making conscious choices and eating foods that make you feel good and taste good. The enjoyment of food is also something that brings us great happiness, which of course creates better moods!

More Info:


Did you know that dehydration can cause mood irregularities? It absolutely can, even mild dehydration. The tricky thing about water is that by the time we are thirsty, we are already somewhat dehydrated. The key is to drink water regularly and steadily enough throughout the day so that we don’t get thirsty. Especially in the cooler months, we are less likely to want to take a refreshing class of water…and you should still do it anyway!


  1. Drink a glass of water when you wake up in the morning, with snacks and meals, and… during your therapy session. I always suggest my patients have some water while we chat.
  2. Drink water BEFORE, during and after your workout or sports practice.
  3. Sipping water in class can keep you alert and energized. I recommend buying a Nalgene or some sort of re-usable bottle: eco-friendly!
  4. Watch your caffeine intake: it can dehydrate you. Iced coffee is not a substitute for ice water (but wouldn’t that be nice)!


Sleep hygiene is so important and often times overlooked. A regular and routine sleep/wake cycle can play an important part of mood regulation. Too much or too little sleep can cause mood swings, irritation, and exhaustion. Nobody is at their happiest self when they are tired.


  1. Aim for, in general, 8 hours of sleep, but know and be mindful of your most effective baseline.   Some people need more and some need less. Try to get to sleep around the same time every night, and wake up the same time every morning.
  2. Don’t try to put yourself to sleep playing Candy Crush! Electronics may seem like a good way to wind down after a long day; however, they and their light stimulate the brain so that you can’t fall asleep as effectively. We all fall victim to cuddling up with our ipads, computers and iphone. Give yourself a set time to turn off /put away electronics at least an hour before bed. I also recommend charging your phone in an outlet AWAY from your bed, so it’s less tempting. Reading a book is a great way to fall asleep, but be aware that doing so on an electronic reading device will make it harder to do so. In this case, real paper books win.
  3. Watch your caffeine intake. Although a grabbing a frappucino from Starbucks is tempting after class and before homework, having caffeine towards the end of your day can make it hard to fall asleep at night. Switch to decaf around 4pm. Or, at the very least, half caf, or some lower-caffeine tea.
  4. Anxiety before bed? Worried about a test? A situation with a friend you have to deal with the next day? A to-do list playing over and over in your head? Keep a journal at your bedside and write out these thoughts before bed. Then close the journal. You can return to them tomorrow.
  5. Keep your bed just for sleep. Doing homework and hanging out in bed is tempting, but if you keep your bed solely for sleep, you will sleep better. And, as an added bonus, you will more effectively get your homework done if it’s at a desk.

Some resources:

National Sleep Foundation:

There are many sources of stress in life and taking some time to assess whether or not your body is getting exactly what it needs is worth the effort. While mood irregularities are part of every day life, small changes in diet and sleep may make you feel that much better, help control your ability to deal with the difficult things, make you that much happier in your joyful moments, and give you that much more strength to tackle whatever situation or issue may come your way this fall.

Jaime Gleicher, LMSW                                                                                                                                                   Licensed Social Worker