And what you can do to sort it out…
In our modern world where we regularly burn the candle at both ends, lack of sleep is perhaps one of our most underrated health problems. So often we are told to eat and exercise right, but not about how sleep deprivation can totally undo all that hard work. So, if you’ve ever wondered why you’re still struggling with health or weight problems despite all your efforts to keep fit and look after your diet, it’s quite possible you may not be sleeping enough.
You’re not alone. According to the CDC, more than a third of Americans don’t get enough sleep. And if you believe this leaves you with just a groggy head and a bad mood the next day, it’s time to think again. Numerous studies show that sleep deprivation has far reaching effects on your body and increases the risk of serious concerns such as obesity, cognitive failure, illness - and even premature death.
Here’s why and how you should give your body all the zzz’s it needs…
WHAT SLEEP DEPRIVATION DOES TO YOUR BODY
You may struggle with your weight
Large scale studies have found less sleep leads to obesity. Lack of sleep throws your weight control hormones into disarray. When you’re in deep sleep, your blood sugar levels drop. If this doesn’t happen, the insulin levels in your body remain high, which leads to more fat being stored - plus a higher risk of type 2 diabetes. And when you’re sleep deprived, the two hormones that control appetite - leptin and ghrelin – are thrown out of balance, tempting you to eat more, often of the wrong things.
You get sick easily
While you sleep, your body works to strengthen the immune system which identifies and destroys those harmful bacteria and viruses which cause illness. Ongoing lack of sleep changes the way your immune cells work so you will get sick more often and take longer to recover, and also become more vulnerable to chronic illness.
Your heart attack risk rises
Sleep plays a critical role in the processes that keep your heart and blood vessels healthy, including your blood pressure and inflammation levels. While you sleep, your blood pressure drops naturally. The less you sleep, the higher it remains for a longer period of time, so increasing your risk of heart disease, including a stroke.
You age before your time
Waking up throughout the night can affect hormone production, including testosterone in men as well as growth hormones, which help build muscle mass and repair tissues. Growth hormone production naturally declines as you age but sleep plays an important role in maintaining healthy levels for longer.
Your memory and concentration fail
Sleep plays a big part in how good you are at recalling details as well as your ability to concentrate, learn new things and be creative. And sleep deprivation leaves your brain exhausted and less alert so increasing your risk for accidents. It can also lead to more serious concerns. A recent study has found that a sleep-deprived brain has excessive amounts of two proteins which are implicated in Alzheimer’s disease.
You are moody and irritable
Feeling more impatient or being prone to mood swings is what we most commonly experience when we’ve had too little sleep. But chronic lack of sleep can also increase your chances of having a mental illness. Numerous studies have shown that insomniacs are 10 times more likely to have clinical depression and 17 times more likely to have clinical anxiety.
HOW YOU CAN SLEEP BETTER
While sleep needs vary, a good rule of thumb is to shoot for 7-9 hours of slumber per night, and to make sure that one poor night of sleep isn’t followed up with a few more. But if you regularly sleep more than 9 hours a night, this can work against you, as studies have found this can have a harmful effect on heart and leg arteries.
Here are some science-based tips to help you get a good night’s rest…
Control your exposure to light both during the day and at night
This helps you align with your body’s natural circadian rhythm, which tells your body when to wake up and when to sleep. Increase your exposure to natural sunlight during the day and dim your lights at night, taking care to steer clear of blue light from your phone and computer.
Stick to a regular sleep schedule to keep in tune with your circadian rhythm
Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning, including on the weekends. And try to avoid long daytime naps which can confuse your internal clock and disrupt your night-time slumber.
Watch your food and drink intake late in the day
Avoid eating heavy meals too late in the day – roughly three to four hours before you go to sleep is ideal. As caffeine is a stimulant which stays in your system for 6-8 hours, your last cup of coffee should be no later than 3-4pm. Also, downing a couple of drinks at night has been shown to negatively affect both your hormones and sleep. And finally, skip any liquids a couple of hours before you go to sleep to stop disruptive trips to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
Optimize your bedroom environment
There are all sorts of studies showing how light, noise and temperature can affect the quality of your sleep. Try to minimize all distractions and maximize bed comfort (especially your mattress) to make your bedroom a dark and quiet sanctuary for sleep. And if you can, try to control room temperature to an ideal 70°F which seems to be a comfortable level for most people.
Get enough exercise but not too late in the day
One of the best science-backed ways to improve all aspects of the quality of your sleep is with exercise. But because of its stimulatory effects, you should try not to exercise within a few hours of bedtime, so best head for the gym in the morning or during the day.
Set up a pre-bedtime relaxation routine
Many different techniques have been proven to help you relax and improve the quality of your sleep. Massage is one of them. Many people swear by a hot bath or shower before bed. Or you can choose from a variety of others – reading a book, aromatherapy, listening to soothing music, meditating, deep breathing or muscle relaxation techniques.
Use supplements to help
Studies support a number of supplements which help you relax and fall asleep faster. Often used to treat insomnia, melatonin, a key sleep hormone, may be one of the easiest ways to improve the quality of your sleep. Others with proven results include glycine, magnesium or L-theanine. Or you can go natural with recognised sleep aids such as valerian root, ginkgo biloba or lavender.
With all the evidence behind it, the need for better sleep goes far beyond just seeing results from your diet and exercise routine in your pursuit of good health. You may not have thought it was that important, but it can make a huge difference and is probably the most crucial health decision you will ever make.
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Note: Please consult with your medical professional before taking any medication.