Is Sleep Deprivation Ruining Your Health?
Getting enough sleep is crucial to your health.
I’m too busy. Sleep is overrated anyway!
I’ll admit it: I love to sleep. Wait. Correction: I love to sleep, but I have a hard time making myself GO to sleep!
I have a husband and four kids. I work part-time. I research and write posts for Simple Daily Change. I try – and some days it’s just try – to practice what I preach through exercise, yoga, meditation and a careful diet. I fiddle with my Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest pages. The list goes on. Sleep? When do I have time to sleep? Wait, what time is it now? 12am? Oh no!
The problem is, when I don’t get enough sleep, everything else falls apart: my hormones get out of whack, I start eating stuff I know I shouldn’t eat, I get migraines, and I’m miserable. Yet I still resist sleeping, worried that I’ll miss something or that someone will need me and I’ll be out like a light (I’m a very sound sleeper; my husband and kids were once stranded for four hours while I took a much-needed nap). Yet slowly, over the years, I’ve gotten much better at not tiring myself out, and my sleeping lapses are fewer and further between. But I still lapse.
I know I’m not alone. The terrible truth is, most modern adults – and increasingly, children and teens – have chronic sleep problems, and sleep deprivation is slowly ruining our health. So, why do we continue to harm ourselves? I know we all lead busy lives; there’s always so much to do, and too little time to do it in. Yet the single biggest thing we can do to improve our health is to get enough sleep, and it’s staring us right in the face when we look in the mirror in the morning. This has got to stop, people!
But I don’t WANT to go to sleep! Why do I need to, mommy?
We – meaning just about every species on the planet – need sleep. And we need different types of sleep. Sleep itself is not just one thing; there are several distinct processes going on when we sleep, each of them important. According to the sleep foundation, there are three distinct types of sleep duration and quality: Slow-wave sleep for body repair, rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep (the place we go to dream), and non-REM sleep; non-REM Stage 2, or N2, actually takes up more than half of our sleep time. WebMD states that sleep can be divided into just two types: REM and non-REM. Non-REM sleep has four stages of increasingly deep sleep. Stage 1 sleep is the lightest, stage 4 is the deepest During normal sleep, you cycle through them all, and get the optimum health benefits.
New studies are constantly being conducted to determine the precise ways that sleep restores us, but it’s absolutely clear that enough (How much is enough? We’ll talk about that soon.) is a crucial part of a healthy life for everyone, even college students. To drive that point home, a 1999 University of Chicago sleep deprivation study showed that restricting sleep to just 4 hours per night for a week brought healthy college students to the point that some had the glucose and insulin characteristics of diabetics, altered hormones, impaired metabolism, and simulated the effects of aging.
Other research shows that sleep-deprived people often have bigger appetites due to falling leptin (an appetite-regulating hormone) levels, adding to the evidence linking sleep deprivation and obesity. Also, the psychological symptoms of fatigue and hunger are similar: when you’re feeling sleepy, your fridge is just as likely a destination as your bed.
Although sleep and diet are closely linked, new research shows that your exercise habits may play an even more important role than diet in getting a good night’s sleep. According to the Sleep Foundation says that, “The obvious, widely recognized, and commonly self-realized sleep quality improvements associated with exercise has lead to adopting the canon ‘maintain a regular exercise program’ as one of the veritable 10-commandments of sleep. Furthermore, studies show that this applies not just to young, but to older adults as well.”
Moderate activity during the day such as Interval Walking reduces the time it takes to fall asleep, and increases sleep duration in insomniacs, compared to nights when you do not exercise. However, vigorous exercise does not seem to improve sleep.
How much is enough sleep?
“Enough sleep” is different for everyone, and depends on many factors including illness, pregnancy, etc. Here are some general guidelines:
- 0 to 12 months: up to 16 hours
- 1 to 3 years: up to 14 hours
- 3 to 6 years: up to 12 hours
- 7 to 12 years: up to 11 hours
- 12 to 18 years: up to 10 hours
- 18+: up to 8 hours (some studies are now saying up to 10)
What if I haven’t had enough sleep for a while?
Recent research has shown that there are two components of not getting enough sleep. The first component is your own optimal amount of sleep each night, similar to the chart above. The second component is the number of nights you have not been getting your optimal amount of sleep – your sleep deficit. Let’s say your optimal amount of sleep is 8.5 hours per night, but you usually get 7 hours. Over just one week, you’ve built up a sleep deficit equivalent to over one night’s sleep. That deficit creates immediate effects that you typically can’t self-evaluate, such as impaired decision-making, impaired learning capacity, and slower reaction time. That can be devastating for you, and especially for your children if they have sleep deficits as well. The problem with the deficit is that sleeping in on the weekends does NOT make up the deficit. The more the deficit, the more you reduce your own quality of life. Even worse, sleep deficits are often the trigger for many chronic illnesses – depression, obesity, diabetes – and can lead to other sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnea. That’s why it’s so important for you to keep a regular sleep schedule.
Okay, okay. I’ll go to bed. But how do I go to sleep?
Suggestions to help you sleep. Combine as appropriate for your sleep number.
- Get moderate exercise every day. Find the time of day that works best for you.
- Have a bedtime routine to program your body to expect to be ready to go to sleep – even on the weekends.
- Your bedroom should only be for sleeping and sex, so your brain associates the bedroom with sleep.
- Turn off ALL media at least one hour before bed.
- Finish eating 3 hours before bed. However, eating is okay if you are having problems creating enough Tryptophan. If so, combine proteins and carbohydrates in a small snack before bed to release Tryptophan.
- Another eating combination is to have your protein and vegetables for dinner, then have 1/2 of a potato or sweet potato one hour before bed to encourage Tryptophan release.
- Don’t consume caffeine. If you do, depending on your sensitivity, only drink 1 to 2 cups of caffeinated beverages – such as coffee or energy drinks – per day.. Regardless, avoid caffeinated products of any kind for 4 to 6 hours prior to bedtime.
- If you’ve had high caffeine consumption for an extended period of time, try reducing your consumption by 1/2 cup of coffee or caffeinated beverage per day so you don’t experience caffeine withdrawal symptoms.
- Avoid sugar, especially after dinner.
- Avoid alcohol. In most cases, it keeps you from entering the deeper stages of sleep.
- Take a warm bath. Don’t stay in too long, and don’t make the water too hot. Use bath salts, or throw in Epsom salts and baking soda – one cup each.
- Get a massage before bed from a cooperative partner. Full body, short back rub, even a face and scalp massage. Keep it slow and gentle.
- Listen to music or a calmly read audio book. Or find audio designed specifically to help put you to sleep.
- Drink warm milk 15 minutes before bed.
- Drink herb tea, especially camomile, catnip, anise or fennel tea. I like “Sleepy Time”.
- Read something calming – but not on your tablet or computer; the light from the screen sends the wrong message to your brain about what time of day it is.
- Be grateful.
- Every night!
- Better health
- Increased attention
- Higher energy during the day
- Better sleep at night
Clicking the button below will take you to a page where you can add a reminder to your calendar for Sleep! You must have a Simple Daily Change account to set up calendar reminders.