Are you losing sleep over, well, not getting enough sleep?
Sleep. The thing that young ones fight, old ones crave, and we all need plenty of. In fact, we’ll spend about a third of our life sleeping! However, getting a good night’s sleep is easier said than done, and chronic sleep shortage can result in much more than a bit of brain fog and grogginess.
Here is a basic primer on sleep, and what can happen when you aren’t getting enough.
Why We Need Sleep
If you’re a busy individual who’s always pressed for time, those recommended eight hours of sleep might seem like time you could be doing something more productive. The truth, though, is that sleep is perhaps your most productive time, and rarely wasted.
Here are a few examples of how productive sleep can be:
When you sleep, your body releases hormones that serve vital health purposes. Among them is growth hormone, which helps repair muscle issue and keep you young. Insulin, ghrelin, and leptin are hormones that influence metabolism, digestion and body weight.
Your brain uses sleep time to grow new neural pathways that help you create memories and hone your concentration and focus the following day.
Certain immune cells work harder as you sleep, which helps fight off inflammatory responses and potential pathogens that could otherwise make you sick.
Effects of Sleep Deprivation
While each of us has slightly different sleep needs, typical recommendations for adults are at least seven hours of sleep every night. At least one-third of us don’t get that amount!
Sleep deprivation may look different for different people, but one thing is certain: when you’re chronically sleep-deprived, you can feel it, and both your body and mind can suffer serious consequences that worsen with time.
A night of poor sleep can lead to sleep deprivation effects like:
Impaired cognition. Perhaps the most obvious sign of a night of poor sleep is that groggy, unfocused feeling. Researchers believe that the lack of sleep can undermine the communication between your brain cells, which is why concentrating and remembering things after a night of tossing and turning is more difficult.
Increased hunger. Two of the hormones we mentioned include leptin and ghrelin. Because they influence your appetite, lack of sleep might make you hungrier during the day with cravings for high-calorie foods.
Mood swings: Sleep deprivation can adversely affect your mood the following day, leading to negative emotions like irritability, frustration, anger, and nervousness.
If you get further into longer-term sleep deprivation stages and poor sleep extends into weeks, months, or years, the consequences grow more severe. Long-term sleep deprivation symptoms include:
- Elevated levels of cortisol, a “stress hormone” linked to a wide range of chronic health issues
- Increased risks of various health conditions, like hypertension, obesity, and type 2 diabetes
- Increased risk of mood disorders like depression and anxiety
- Gastrointestinal issues stemming from increased inflammation and blunted immune response
Unfortunately, these conditions can become a cycle when left unaddressed, with restless nights fueling bad days and vice versa.
How to Get Better Quality Sleep
By now, it should be clear that sleeping is much more than just a chance to tune out at the end of the day. In truth, it’s a necessity for good health! A good night’s sleep is a great remedy for muscle recovery, mental health, immune health, etc.
As with many things, getting that good night’s sleep is sometimes easier said than done. The good news is that it’s not impossible.
Some ideas for helping you get more sleep:
Lay off of the caffeine later in the day. Millions use caffeine to power through days and stay as alert and focused as possible following sleepless nights. Unfortunately, it can backfire if you’re using it later in the day; on average, it takes roughly 5 hours or more for the energetic effects to wear off, which can leave you awake and fuel the tossing and turning come bedtime. If this is the case for you, restrict your caffeine intake to the first half of the day.
Incorporate natural sleep aids into your routine. There are several natural sleep remedies you can use that may promote relaxation and sleep like melatonin and magnesium.
Try some sleep meditation practices or delve into the comfort of prayer. If you just can’t seem to get your brain to “shut off” at the end of the day, these practices can focus your “mindfulness” on something positive rather than the million other stressors that life can bring. Prayer is a great way to focus on thanksgiving and gratitude, which decreases the importance we assign to other stressors.
If you’re still struggling to get enough rest, read our article on how to get a more restful night's sleep. If you continue to suffer from chronic sleep deprivation and these methods don’t work, it might be time to chat with your doctor to figure out if there’s an underlying issue that’s stopping you from getting the sleep you need. You could be suffering from sleep apnea or related problems that lie beyond the scope of typical practices or supplements.
The bottom line
Sleep deprivation can have both acute and long-term consequences on your mental and physical health, and yet so many of us accept it as a way of life. Hopefully, now you know it doesn’t have to be!!!