“Dear Sleep, I know we had problems in the past, but I love you now.”
Ever wonder how you managed to thrive on just a few hours of sleep in your younger years? In high school I achieved good grades, had endless energy, and performed in peak athletic shape despite staying up most of the night… The resiliency of youth is astounding!
I love life and wake up excited for each day, but admittedly, I get positively giddy to hop into bed and grab some shut-eye each night. Sleep is a vital part of my “Big 5 Self-Care” tips that keep me happy, healthy, alert and energized.
Occasionally, though, a good night of sleep eludes me and when it does, I’m instantly aware of how negatively that impacts my ability to function properly. Without proper sleep I feel groggy, cranky, introverted, irritable, hungry, and physically nauseated… who wants to be around that?!
Unfortunately, adequate sleep eludes too many people, too frequently.
Four out of 10 Americans don’t get the recommended seven hours per night — and the consequences go beyond the typical signs that our bodies need more rest (yawning, heavy eyes, trouble focusing, and playing catch up by sleeping in on weekends).
The more insidious consequences of sleep deprivation, which can accumulate over time include:
- Trouble making decisions, solving problems, controlling emotions or behavior, and coping with change.
- Depression, increased anger and impulsive behavior, mood swings, sadness, and decreased motivation.
- Increased stress coupled with impaired ability to pay attention.
- Increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke and obesity.
That sounds miserable! Clearly, quality sleep is vital to our health and wellbeing. It plays a big part in regulating our energy, shaping our moods, and determining our motivation for accomplishing, well… anything!
“Sleep is the golden chain that binds health and our bodies together.” –Thomas Dekker
Why Sleep Is So Important
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute says that getting quality sleep at the right times affects mental and physical health, safety, and quality of life.
It turns out that sleep helps your brain work properly: It’s forming new pathways to help you learn and retain information, so you literally improve your ability to understand new tasks, hone skills, pay attention, be creative, and make decisions.
This is a big deal when it comes to living a fantastic, full life! But, it’s especially vital if you’re trying to lose weight or reduce stress by developing new healthy behaviors.
With obesity now a full-blown epidemic in our nation, and sleep deprivation on its heels, getting your ZZZs has never been more important.
Consistent, sufficient sleep combats the myriad ways our health can diminish, while insufficient sleep can stop weight loss and stress reduction efforts in their well-intentioned tracks.
Here are just a few benefits your waistline will glean from instilling regular sleep habits:
- Balanced hormones—ghrelin and leptin, make you feel hungry or full, respectively. Sleep deprivation increases the release of ghrelin while suppressing leptin, increasing the likelihood for overeating.
- Healthy insulin response—high blood sugar is linked to diabetes. Sleep deprivation results in a higher-than-normal blood sugar level and impaired insulin response, resulting in greater fat storage and long-term health issues.
- Tissue repair and growth—cells, organs, blood vessels, and those all-important muscles that burn fat and lead to a lean body and efficient metabolism regenerate during sleep.
- Strong immune system—defense against foreign substances, even the common cold, becomes challenging when sleep is inadequate. Being chronically ill can derail your fitness efforts instantly.
- Improved digestion—nutrient absorption, increased energy, and toxin elimination keep your metabolism humming along in top shape.
Common Sleep Disruptors
There are so many ways sleep can be disrupted, and figuring out what is at the heart of your sleep issues can seem overwhelming. But it doesn’t need to be a daunting task — your health is worth the effort. Masking your sleep issues with over-the-counter drugs or prescription aids is not a long-term solution.
Stress, diet, anxiety, negative thoughts, stimulants, alcohol, TV, electronic devices, an erratic work schedule, a new baby/young child, puppy, noise… the list of contributing factors is endless.
Two studies published recently in the journal Sleep identified cell phones and our jobs as the biggest culprits of disrupted sleep among teens and adults, respectively. So, what can you do to combat insomnia? Here are some tips.
10 Steps to a Great Night of Sleep
- Make sure your environment is comfortable: bedding, pillows, temperature, noise, and lighting are all factors that can determine the quality of your sleep.
- Sleep when you’re tired: take naps if appropriate, but more importantly, go to bed when your body signals you that it’s ready. Staying up late to watch your favorite show is NOT more important than your health.
- Stay properly hydrated: hydration is key to reducing muscle cramping and other body discomforts, however it’s good to make sure you’re not going to bed with a full bladder — that will be a major disruptor. Accomplish the bulk of your hydration during the day and wean down a couple hours before bed.
- Ensure your hunger is satisfied: going to bed on an empty stomach is just as uncomfortable as being stuffed. Learn to listen to your body’s satiety cues and eat to satisfaction.
- Limit certain foods and drinks: stimulants such as caffeine found in coffee, tea, and chocolate disrupt your sleep cycle if ingested too late in the day. Although alcohol is technically a depressant, it is a major sleep disruptor — you may pass out, but it’s not quality sleep when under the influence!
- Go device-free 2 hours before bed: basking in the blue light of your phone or iPad depletes melatonin — the hormone that induces asleep. The Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School found that regular use of devices before bed increased difficulty falling asleep, and reduced time in restorative sleep.
- Write out tomorrow’s to-do list: Worrying about work or an unfinished to-do list can keep you up at night. Write down tasks or recurring thoughts that are keeping you over-stimulated, stressed, or distracted. Even writing a letter to someone who upset you then throwing it away can stop the auto-play of negative events in your mind.
- Unwind before bed: read books in print under dim lighting, laugh and reminisce with friends or family, visualize, reflect or meditate on the abundance in your life, and journal gratitude for all you’re experiencing. These activities shift your mind and body into a state of relaxation by increasing the release of endorphins.
- Drink Calm Tea: the anti-stress drink by Natural Vitality is a simple way to provide your body with one of its most abundant and vital minerals, magnesium. Known to reduce stress, muscle cramping, and aid sleep, it’s my favorite go-to tea when I need some extra support.
- Do some yoga, stretching, and deep belly breathing: all of these activities have been proven to relax your mind and body, preparing you for a restful, rejuvenating sleep. The results are profound and require minimal time to take effect. Click here for a quick 4-minute sequence to do before bed. [[https://youtu.be/culYH2wddkU ]]
If you’ve ever lost a night of sleep — let alone several in a row — you know just how important it is to every part of your wellbeing. Your work, relationships, and fitness goals depend on the consistency of quality sleep. Implement these steps, one at a time, and in 10 days your sleep, and your life, can dramatically improve.