We all know it: high-quality sleep is vital for both healing and sustained wellness. Unfortunately we have an epidemic of sleep disorders – from trouble falling asleep to often-interrupted sleep to actual insomnia. According to the CDC in 2016, more than a third of American adults are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis. You can see more sleep data here
Our modern world is a go-go-go, do-do-do…. and do more society. Among the numerous responsibilities we juggle daily, quality sleep often takes the back burner, and those repercussions show up in our health and around our waistlines.
Impacts of Sleep Deprivation:
When you’re sleep deprived, your:
Cortisol and blood sugar rises: Blood sugar rises alongside cortisol as a natural survival mechanism. Your risk for Type 2 Diabetes increases with lack of sleep
Blood pressure rises: As cortisol rises, so does your blood pressure as part of a natural survival mechanism and thus increases your risk for heart disease
Immune system weakens: Leaving you more susceptible to colds, infections, makes respiratory diseases worse and longer healing time
Skin will suffer: Because damaged cells aren’t repairing and you’re not repairing old ones
Sex hormones will become out of balance: Leading to low sex drive
Coordination will be off: Due to lack of energy getting into the muscles and muscles that control eye movement are faltering
Poor Memory: Because of the brains sluggish processing power
Mental Health & Mood Imbalances: Sleep deprivation can bring on mood and anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Digestive Disorders: Lack of sleep increases creates a sympathetic nervous system state of being, which can slow down digestion by up to 80%
Hunger Increases: A lack of sleep causes your body to lower its amounts of the hormone, leptin (appetite suppressant) and then raise its levels of ghrelin (appetite stimulant), meaning you will find yourself hungrier and more prone to overeat.
Metabolism Slows Down: Sleep deprivation causes a sluggish metabolism. This, combined with the cravings and appetite changes, can lead to unwanted weight gain and associated health issues.
How do we sleep?
Melatonin should be rising steadily and cortisol should be rock-bottom low at bedtime. But there’s a catch: our brain secretes melatonin largely in response to darkness. And our evening cortisol levels are lowest in environments with low noise. The screens on our TV’s and mobile devices display full spectrum light which can confuse the brain about whether it’s night-time or not. The brain says “I don’t know if I should be awake or if I should be asleep!” We also, unfortunately, tend to watch shows or view email that can be loud and/or stressful (e.g. the evening news, a crime show, work email, or ever-longer to-do lists). With these modern lifestyle choices, we often see low nightly melatonin production and high nightly cortisol secretion, which disrupts sleep immensely.
Sleep Soundly Tips
1. Choose more calming, quieter evening activities that resonate with you and help you to relax, both mentally and physically (e.g. reading a book, taking a bath, going for a light stroll outdoors, playing with a pet, folding laundry).
2. Avoid Screens: Turn off all full-spectrum light for a full 1-2 hours before bedtime. This means no email, TV, or smartphone apps. Especially avoid screen time in bed.
3. Avoid amping up your brain. Avoid activities such as budgeting, balancing your checkbook, next-day-planning, or stressful conversations in the full hour prior to bedtime. I also recommend no caffeinated food or drink at all after 2pm (e.g. tea (even green), coffee, soda, chocolate); yes, it *can* affect you that many hours later.
4. Make it quiet, but not too quiet. If noise is an issue in your bedroom (too little OR too much), I often recommend soft foam ear plugs and/or the white noise of a fan. And yes, there are apps for white noise!
5. Mind the temperature. Rooms which are too hot or too cold tend to wake us up. In addition to waking us up to mess with the bedding, temperature extremes naturally increase our stress hormones which promotes wakefulness.
6. Have a relaxing ritual at night. Herbal tea (e.g. lavender, chamomile, valerian, passionflower) can help one to relax and set the tone for sleep. A hot bath with Epsom salts may work well. Or perhaps 10 minutes of gratitude journaling or reading an inspirational or spiritual book.
7. Quiet the digestion. This is a particularly powerful one that surprises many. For clients with insomnia or light, restless sleep, I recommend no food at all for a full three hours before bed.
If you incorporate these strategies and still struggle with sleeping, please reach out to us! We can determine whether things like food sensitivities, thyroid problems, menopause, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, heavy metal toxicity, stress and depression are interfering with your sleep.
It’s important you know that this blog post is for informational and educational purposes. It’s not meant to treat any health condition or to be prescriptive for anyone.
Always be sure to work with your healthcare practitioner. I highly recommend trying all new recommendations and/or supplements slowly to make sure they are ok for you.