In our fast-paced society, skipping sleep in order to tick off everything on our “to-do” lists has become the norm.
Juggling work, family responsibilities, friendships, and leisure activities often means that when the pressure is on, sleep is the first thing to go. We think this makes us more efficient, but what is the true impact of not getting enough shut eye?
On the surface level, we know that a lack of sleep doesn’t make us feel good. Common side effects of neglecting to get our seven to nine hours of sleep a night include grogginess, lack of concentration and mental focus, moodiness, nausea, and dizziness. To compensate, people often reach for coffee or sugary breakfasts to boost their energy levels – which actually end up causing greater energy slumps.
Many people attest that a lack of sleep also affects their physical performance when exercising, and can lead to appetite fluctuations (especially cravings for more carbohydrates and refined sugars).
The symptoms of temporary sleep deprivation usually disappear within a few nights of adequate sleep. Individuals that are chronically sleep-deprived, however, may face a whole different set of health problems.
Research reveals that a lack of sleep could be linked to a host of illnesses, including: hypertension (high blood pressure), dementia, mild cognitive impairment, weight gain and obesity, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes. Sleep deprivation also weakens the immune system, and could lead to increased inflammation in the body. This is why you often experience mild cold- or flu-like symptoms when you are tired.
A meta-analysis study published in the Diabetes Care journal in 2010 found that individuals who slept for less than five to six hours a night had a 28% higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, while individuals that had difficulty maintaining sleep throughout the night had an 84% higher risk of developing the same condition.
A separate American study revealed that individuals who slept between six to seven hours a night had a 48% increased risk of developing metabolic syndrome, while the risk shot up to 83% in individuals who slept for less than six hours a night. Additionally, another study involving 1 811 airline workers found that night shift workers were 2.3 times more likely to have metabolic syndrome than their daytime worker counterparts.
Possible reasons for these metabolic illnesses could be linked to sleep’s role in regulating the hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin, as well as glycemic control. When people do not sleep enough, their bodies cannot regulate metabolic processes effectively, which leads to increased appetite and calorie intake, reduced energy expenditure, and eventually, could contribute to the development of diabetes.Fortunately, there are a number of natural, very practical things that we can do to ensure that our bodies are getting the rest they need.
Here are some of my favourites:
Get to bed before midnight: Our bodies follow a series of 90 minute sleep cycles that are divided into five stages. The first four stages encompass non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, while the fifth stage is when rapid eye movement (REM) sleep (typically known as the “dreaming phase”) occurs.
People tend to experience more NREM sleep (which includes the third and fourth deep sleep stages) in the earlier hours of the night, while people who go to bed later experience more REM sleep. During the third and fourth phases, the brain generates slow delta waves. This is the most restorative part of the sleep cycle.
Avoid electronics before bed: The blue light given off by electronic devices (cellphones, laptops, televisions) interferes with our natural circadian rhythms. The sleep hormone, melatonin, starts increasing after sunset, and bright artificial lighting and electronic lighting can interfere with melatonin production, making it more difficult to fall asleep.
Try to stop using electronic devices at least one hour before bedtime.
Use your bedroom for sleep: Many people work, watch television, or use their cellphones in bed. This can impact the quality of your sleep and your ability to unwind once you step into your bedroom.
Embrace the dark: The darker your room, the more melatonin your body will produce, and the less likely you will be to wake up in the middle of the night due to bright light. Invest in thick curtains, or use a sleeping mask.
Your room should also be a comfortable temperature – not too hot or too cold – and should preferably allow for a flow of fresh air through an open window.
Eat for sleep: Avoid stimulants (caffeine and alcohol) before bed, and try not to drink liquids an hour or two before bed (to prevent having to go to the bathroom during the night). Research has found that certain fruits may also increase melatonin levels naturally. These include: pineapples, oranges, bananas, and tart cherry juice from Montmorency cherries (Prunus cerasus).
When you make sleep a priority, your body will be better equipped to tackle your other priorities. This will prevent burnout, and drastically improve your quality of life.
So next time you feel like taking a nap, leave your guilt at the door.
Email Tracy at firstname.lastname@example.org