When we are deprived of sleep, the first signs we notice are: feeling tired in the morning, feeling sluggish throughout the day and not being able to focus. When we are really tired we may even feel as if we have sand in our eyes. Unfortunately, these symptoms are only the tip of the iceberg.
Some people suggest that we sleep 8 hours per night, others say 6 hours is enough, others say as many or as little time you feel you need, and others say that we shouldn’t sleep our lives away. But really, how many hours should we be sleeping? Nowadays, we are exposed to so much information that we don’t know what to do!
So I hope that after reading this post, you can’t figure out for yourself if you should be sleeping more or less than you have, or if you should just continue to go with your current routine.
I believe that to understand how many hours of sleep we should have per night, we first need to look into why we can’t sleep in the first place.
If you are used to sleeping 4, 5, 6 hours per night, my question to you is: why and when did that become your sleeping pattern?
To help you figure this question out, I put together the major causes of insomnia. Try to pick the one(s) that you can relate to. Think of it and ask yourself if that was when you started the sleeping pattern you are in now.
MAJOR CAUSES OF SLEEP DEPRIVATION/INSOMNIA:
- Stress. This includes traumatic events, such as death of a loved one, or divorce.
- Anxiety. This includes every day worries, such as someone’s sickness, money, and even the worry of not being able to sleep itself.
- Depression. When you are depressed you might sleep too much or have trouble sleeping. Insomnia often occurs with other mental health disorders as well.
- Change in your environment or work schedule. That may disturb your circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle), metabolism, and body temperature.
- Poor sleep habits. This includes overly-stimulating activities, such as video games, violent movies etc. before bed, or an uncomfortable sleep environment.
- Caffeine, Nicotine and Alcohol. Stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine can disrupt normal sleep cycles as well as alcohol. Although alcohol is a sedative and may help you fall asleep, it prevents deeper stages of sleep, and causes you to awaken in the middle of the night.
- Eating too much late in the evening. This makes your body temperature to rise due to digestion, and makes you uncomfortable to fall asleep due to a full stomach.
- Medical conditions. This includes chronic pain, breathing difficulties or a bigger need to use the bathroom. Other conditions linked with insomnia include arthritis, cancer, heart failure, lung disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), overactive thyroid, stroke, and mental diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
- Medications. Many prescription drugs can interfere with sleep, including some antidepressants, heart and blood pressure medications, hormone medications, allergy medications, stimulants (such as Ritalin), and corticosteroids. Also, many over-the-counter medications, including some pain medication combinations, decongestants and weigh-loss products – they contain caffeine and other stimulants.
Now that you may have identified what is getting in the way of your restful night, let’s take a look at the consequences of lack of sleep. See if you can identify yourself.
CONSEQUENCES OF SLEEP DEPRIVATION/INSOMNIA:
- Weight gain. Short sleep duration is one of the strongest risk factors for obesity. A study shows that children and adults with short sleep duration were 89% and 55% more likely to become obese, respectively. The effect of sleep on weight gain is believed to be mediated by numerous factors, including hormones, such as cortisol, and motivation to exercise.
- Increased hunger. Sleep deprived individuals have a bigger appetite and tend to eat more calories due to the daily fluctuations in appetite hormones. This includes higher levels of ghrelin (the hormone that stimulates appetite), and reduced levels of leptin (the hormone that suppresses appetite).
- Affected emotions and social interactions. Sleep loss reduces our ability to interact socially. This was confirmed after several studies using emotional facial recognition tests. One study found that people who had not slept had a reduced ability to recognize expressions of anger and happiness. Researches believe that poor sleep affects our ability to recognize important social cues and process emotional information. This leads to compromised decision-making skills.
- Decreased concentration and productivity. Sleep is important for various aspects of brain function, including cognition, concentration, productivity, and performance. All of those functions are affected by sleep deprivation. A study showed that people who lack sleep made 36% more errors than those that allowed more sleep. Another study found that short sleep can negatively impact some aspects of brain function to a similar degree as alcohol intoxication. On the other hand, good sleep has been shown to improve problem solving skills and enhance memory performance of both children and adults.
- Minimized athletic and physical performances. In a study on basketball players, long sleep was shown to significantly improve speed, accuracy, reaction times, and mental wellbeing. Another study made on 2,800 women showed that poor sleep was linked to slower walking, lower grip strength, and greater difficulty performing independent activities.
- Increased inflammation. Sleep can have a major affect on inflammation in the body. In fact, sleep loss is known to activate undesirable markers of inflammation and cell damage. Poor sleep has been strongly linked to long-term inflammation of the digestive tract, in disorders known as inflammatory bowel diseases. Poor sleep is strongly linked to the increased risk of disease recurrence.
- Compromised immune function. Even a small loss of sleep has been shown to impair immune function. One large 2-week study monitored the development of the common cold after giving people nasal drops with the virus that causes colds. Those who slept less that 7 hours were almost three times more likely to develop a cold than those who slept 8 hours or more.
- Depression. About 90% of patients with depression complain about sleep quality. Poor sleep is even associated with increased risk of death by suicide. Those with sleeping disorders, such as insomnia or obstructive sleep apnea, also report significantly higher rates of depression than those without.
- Affected glucose metabolism and type 2 diabetes risk. Sleep restriction affects blood sugar and reduces insulin sensitivity. In a study of healthy young men, restricting sleep to 4 hours per night per 6 nights in a row caused symptoms of pre-diabetes. This was resolved after 1 week of increased sleep duration. Those sleeping less than 6 hours per night have repeatedly been shown to be at increased risk for type 2 diabetes.
- Greater risk of heart disease and stroke. A review of 15 studies found that short sleepers are at far greater risk of heart disease or stroke than those who sleep 7 to 8 hours per night.
Were you able to identify yourself in any of those consequences of sleep deprivation? If so, the good news is that sleep may be able to help those conditions!
But the now… how do we break the cycle, or at least help, a bad sleeping pattern that has already been made? Let’s take a look at some of the recommended lifestyle changes to improve your sleeping habits.
HOW TO IMPROVE SLEEPING HABITS AND START SLEEPING MORE:
- Stick to a regular sleep schedule. Try going to bed at the same time, every night, even when you don’t feel tired or sleepy.
- Have dinner at least 4 hours before going to bed. If that is not a possible task, eat foods that are low in fat and easy for your body to digest. This means foods low in fat.
- Pay attention to what you eat and drink before bed. Do not eat too much or too little. Eating too much will cause your body to need to create energy for digestion. Eating too little will cause hunger and discomfort.
- Turn off visual electrical devices at least 1 hour before bed, such as smartphones, tv, tablets, computers, etc. These devices stimulate the mind by triggering our brains to stay awake and alert. These devices emit something called blue light, which is a type of light that the brain interprets as daylight. The blue light suppresses melatonin (a hormone that affects circadian rhythm and should increase when you are preparing for bedtime.
- Create a calm bedtime ritual, such as a warm bath, reading, yoga, meditation, and/or even “pillow talking.
- Create a restful atmosphere. Turn volumes down, speak low, dim lights.
- Limit daytime naps. Daytime naps disrupt your regular sleep-wake schedule. Your body loses sense of day and night, and your circadian rhythm is affected.
- Exercise in the afternoon or later. Exercise triggers an increase in body temperature, and the post-exercise drop in temperature may help with falling asleep. Exercise also reduces insomnia by decreasing anxiety and depressive symptoms.
- Manage stress. set priorities, stay organized, and delegate tasks to others whenever possible. Handle the worries of tomorrow before you lay down to sleep by creating a list of “to do’s”.
- Supplement. If you have tried all of the alternatives above but are still having trouble with your sleeping pattern, you may want to use natural supplements. Replace your daily dosage of caffeine with natural stress-busting, energizing and regenerating adaptogenic herbs. My personal favorites that have helped me beyond explanation during my worst times were:
– Ashwagandha: “helps to restore energy, lower cortisol, balance thyroid hormones, enhances endurance and stamina, relieves stress and anxiety, reduces brain cell degeneration, stabilizes blood sugar, lowers cholesterol, boosts immunity, prevents cancer.” (Dr. Axe)
– Rhodiola Rosea: “helps combat fatigue, stress, poor attention span, decreased memory, and the damaging effects of oxygen deprivation. Increases capacity for mental work, and acts as an antioxidant, enhances immune system function, and can increase libido.” (Dr. Weil)
I am not affiliated with any products or supplements. The suggestion of the 2 supplemental herbs listed above come from my personal research and experience. They can be taken together as they work in different parts of our brains.
P.s.: Adaptogen means: a nontoxic natural substance and specially a plant extract that is held to increase the body’s ability to resist the damaging effects of stress and promote or restore normal physiological functioning. It is considered to help body adapt to stress and to exert a normalizing effect upon bodily process.
What I find very worrisome is when I see my clients who lack sleep push themselves to their limits. They are usually hyperactive, exercise on a daily basis, and think they are living long fulfilled lives. The truth is, if they don’t have adequate sleep, they are probably finding the energy in an outside source, such as caffeine. As they keep pushing themselves, their bodies become more and more tired while their hearts have to beat faster and faster to keep up with their routine. This can cause hormone imbalances –> adrenal fatigue –> kidney problems –> heart problems.
Also, this type of people usually don’t understand why they are skinny but can never lose their belly fat. They also are usually irritable (very easy to spot in traffic – the car can’t drive as fast as their minds are running, and can be expressed as “road rage”). Many times, this type of people have a lot of explanations to why they love coffee, soft drinks, energy drinks, etc so much and could never give that part of their lives up.
If my description sounds familiar to you, you may be on your way to adrenal fatigue (or you may already be there).
That’s when exercising is dangerous. And unfortunately, I find that that’s when people are exercising the most (because they are trying to lose the belly fat caused by high cortisol due to lack of sleep), and using caffeine to push through. As you can see, this is a recipe for heart attacks.
When we rest properly and have restful and proper sleep, we build the energy to exercise that comes from our “inside source”. And, because we sleep enough, the stress in our bodies decreases, our cortisol levels decrease, and our belly fat decreases. As a consequence to that, our physical performance increases!
So, now that you have this information, tell me: how is the slack of sleep affecting your life? How important do you think sleeping really is?
Sleeping 7 to 8 hours a night doesn’t mean that we are “sleeping our lives away”. It means that we are allowing ourselves to live happy and fulfilled lives, feeling our best! Or would you like to live longer days, but less days of your life, like a zombie?
Like always, the choice is always ours!
Wishing you a night full of zzzzzzzzzzzzz…’s,
Gabriela Brandao, CHHC, MMP.