Before we dig into the many reasons why you might not be getting enough sleep, it’s important to review just how important sleep is to overall health and wellness. Sleeping is equally as important to your health as eating a good diet and exercising. Working too hard and not getting enough sleep can have serious and sometimes even life-threatening impacts on your health.
Why Sleep Is So Important
Here are just some of the reasons why sleep is so important to good health.
Lack of sleep can lead to obesity:
There is a strong connection between lack of sleep and weight gain. Research shows that people who sleep too little weigh more than others who get enough rest. One study found that adults who slept for a short duration were 55% more likely to become obese. It is believed that the sleep and weight connection may include things like hormones and desire to exercise – leading to weight gain. If you want to maintain a healthy weight, getting enough sleep is crucial.
Lack of sleep can lead to low productivity and concentration difficulties:
Our brains need sleep and good quality sleep in order to function best. Without proper sleep, it becomes more difficult to concentrate and compute and productivity and performance are negatively impacted. A study conducted on medical interns showed that those on a normal, highly busy schedule, made 36% more serious medical errors than interns who slept more. In another study, it was found that lack of sleep had a similar impact on brain function as being intoxicated by alcohol. Contrary to these studies, good duration and quality sleep have been positively linked to improved problem solving and better memory.
Poor sleep can lead to greater risk of heart disease and stroke:
You might know that a poor diet and lack of exercise, as well as smoking, can elevate your risk of heart disease and stroke. What you might not know is that not getting enough quality sleep can also increase your risk. Fifteen studies were reviewed and it was found that those who didn’t sleep enough were at a much greater risk of heart attack and stroke compared to those who slept 7 to 8 hours per night.
Sleep impacts metabolism and increases the risk of type 2 diabetes:
When participants in a study were put on a restricted sleep schedule their blood sugar was impacted and their sensitivity to insulin was reduced. Another study with young and healthy men showed that restricting sleep from 6 hours to 4 hours a night for 6 nights in a row caused pre-diabetes symptoms. After one week of normal sleep, the symptoms were reversed indicating a direct relationship between duration of sleep and diabetes risk.
Lack of sleep can lead to depression:
Poor sleep does not only impact your physical wellbeing but also your mental health. It is estimated that 90% of people with depression have issues with duration and or quality of sleep. Sleep problems are also linked to an increased risk of suicide.
Sleep is necessary for the proper immune function:
Research has shown that even losing a couple of nights of sleep here in there can hurt immune function. In one study people who slept fewer than 7 hours per night were more likely to get sick with the common cold than those who slept 7 or more hours.
Lack of sleep leads to inflammation:
Inflammation is suspected to be at the very root of many chronic health conditions including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Poor sleep has been linked to long-term inflammation in the digestive tract which can cause inflammatory bowel diseases.
Signs You Are Not Sleeping Enough
You may think that you are well suited to your shortened sleep schedule but in reality, it is harming your health. Living in a fast-paced culture it is easy to burn the wick at both ends. It is important to pay attention to the signs that your body is giving you that it needs more rest. Here are some signs that you may be sleep deprived that you may just be overlooking.
1. You are always ready to eat – If your brain is not getting enough downtime it will try to get the energy that it needs from food. If you don’t sleep enough your body will increase production of the hunger hormone, ghrelin. If you have too much ghrelin in your system, you will want sugary and fatty foods – foods that are not good for you. In addition, lack of sleep can also interfere with leptin, the hormone that lets you know when you are satisfied.
2. You have gained weight – It is likely that with an increased appetite that you might also gain weight. This is a vicious cycle because when you are tired you might not be as careful about what you are eating. You might munch on junk food just to stay awake or to get through the day. As mentioned, a lack of sleep can seriously mess with metabolism. One study found that getting 4.5 hours of sleep per night for four nights can reduce the ability that fat cells have to respond to insulin by 30%.
3. You can’t find your keys (again and again): Blame it on being busy but the real reason you can’t find your keys might be because you are not sleeping enough. When we are tired we don’t pay attention very well. According to the National Institutes of Health, sleep helps to clear toxic molecules from the brain
4. You are always sick: If you seem to pick up every little bug going around it is possible that your immune system is compromised from lack of sleep. Not getting enough sleep significantly impairs your body’s ability to fight off infections. When we sleep, our immune system produces cytokines which are proteins that help protect us from infections and inflammation.
5. You can’t make decisions: Are you having trouble managing decisions you have to make at home or work? This could be because you are tired. Sleep deprivation can impact the speed of higher-level cognitive processing. A study published in Sleep found that well-rested volunteers responded much better to tasks that required quick decision making than those that had poorer quality sleep. Poor sleep clearly diminishes the ability to respond quickly which could be dangerous in situations such as driving.
6. You don’t see as well: If you are tired, you can’t control the muscles in the eyes well. This means that you might have a difficult time reading up close. Some people notice these vision problems after just one night of poor sleep.
7. You are emotional: Are you crying a lot, irritable or just not yourself? It could be because you are not getting enough rest. When you don’t sleep well, things that would normally not bother you become a major ordeal. Some people who are tired become easily angered while others might become unexplainably gitty or chatty.
8. Your skin is dull: Every system in the body is impacted by a lack of sleep, the skin is no exception. If you are not getting your “beauty sleep” you are not giving your skin the time it needs to repair damaged cells. A clinical trial conducted at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio found that people who slept well had a 30% greater skin recovery response than those who had poor sleep. You may have more wrinkles because the body produces collagen while you are sleeping.
What You Can Do To Get More Sleep
The first thing that you need to do is commit to getting more sleep. Make a pact with yourself and your loved ones that you are going to sleep more – no matter what. Once you have done this, try these tips to sleep longer and better.
Put down your electronics at least one hour before bed:
Research shows that the blue light emitted from electronic devices interferes with sleep quality. If you have a television in your bedroom, take it out.
Make your bedroom a sanctuary:
Your bedroom should be a place of peace, a quiet retreat. If you can help it – don’t use your bedroom for work or working out. This interferes the peacefulness of your room. Paint your room a peaceful color like lavender, soft grey, soft sage, icy blue and dark blue.
Turn the air down:
As nighttime approaches, the body naturally drops in temperature. By keeping your bedroom cool you are naturally reinforcing that it is bedtime which will help you fall asleep quicker. A cool room (between 60 and 68 degrees) also stimulates the production of melatonin which promotes sleep and is also a powerful anti-aging hormone.
Stay on a schedule:
When you get on a regular schedule of waking and sleeping it will regulate your sleeping patterns. Once you establish a regular rhythm, your biological clock will be in sync with the rest of your bodily functions, including sleep.
Stop caffeine at 2 pm:
If you can avoid that late afternoon coffee you will sleep better. Eliminating caffeine after 2 pm helps your body metabolize this stimulant. Try a nice cup of chamomile tea before bed instead.
Stop exercising 4 hours before bed:
It may seem like if you exercised before bed you would be tired but the opposite is actually true. Exercise during the day is an excellent way to encourage healthy sleep. It will help you fall asleep and stay asleep longer but not if performed before bed. The best time to exercise is in the morning – before noon.
Get some sun:
Getting 15 minutes of morning sun can substantially improve the quality and duration of sleep because sunlight regulates the production of melatonin. Our internal body clock runs on a 24-hour schedule of light and dark. When we are exposed to a regular pattern of light and dark starting with some morning sun, we sleep better.
Don’t drink alcohol 3 hours before bed:
Although you might think that alcohol is the perfect sleep aid, in reality, it is not. You might fall asleep faster with a drink before bed but the alcohol keeps you from reaching deep stages of sleep, it dehydrates you, it wakes you to use the bathroom and it is empty, with no nutritional calories that do not help overall health and wellness.
Avoid heavy meals in the evening:
Eating a small, light and nutritious meal in the evening is advantageous to better sleep. The body has a hard time digesting a lot of food at night, especially protein. Save your bigger meal for the middle of the day and ease into the evening with lighter fare for better rest.
Don’t read in bed:
Contrary to what you might think, your favorite book, be it a romance, mystery or a thriller, will actually keep you from a restful sleep. Reserve the bedroom for sleep and sex only and leave your book by your comfy chair in the living room instead.
Listen to soothing nature sounds:
Soothing sounds like ocean waves, a rambling river or a good thunderstorm can help induce relaxation and allow you to deflate for sleep.
Don’t sleep with your furry friends:
While your kitties and dogs may love to snuggle in your bed, they will interrupt your sleep. Whether you are allergic to their dander or not, they will keep you from your best sleep. Put a bed on the floor for Fido or train your dogs to a crate if you are after high-quality sleep.
There are many essential oils that can induce a restful night’s sleep. The scent of lavender seems to be especially conducive to a restful sleep. Put a diffuser in your bedroom or spray your bed sheets with lavender essential oil spray just before bed.
Many people lay awake at night, unable to unwind from the day. You might try to organize your next day schedule or just go over your to-do list. All of these things will hinder your sleep quality. To unload your mind try writing in a journal before you go to sleep. This will translate what is in your head to paper and hopefully free space for you to wind down.
More Tips For Better Sleep:
- Use an organic mattress and pillow
- Sleep with a weighted blanket
- Have a hot bath before bed with some lavender oil
- Visualize yourself falling asleep
- Do some easy stretching or yoga before bed
- Avoid too many liquids before bed
- Sleep with earplugs and eye mask
- Sleep naked
- Get checked for sleep apnea if you snore