"I'll just watch one more episode... .""I'll catch up on sleep during the weekend." "I have so much to do. I'll sleep when I retire!"
These thoughts are too often in our daily narratives... Due to our busy lives, many of us place sleep at the bottom of our list of priorities and never give it a second thought. When an endless to-do list is running through our minds, why would we use up precious time to sleep?
Then we wonder why we crave sugar (want to kick sugar with us?), why our colds stick around, and why that bit of belly fat just won't go away. Sleep is the single most important behavior that humans experience. When consistently sleep deprived, a multitude of health issues can affect our overall well-being. We need to place sleep as one of our top priorities to ensure a healthy body and mind.
Today, the majority of us get 5 hours or less of sleep each night. Most of us are walking around consistently sleep deprived.
"How do I know if I am sleep deprived?"
When suffering from sleep deprivation, your body will tell you. You just have to listen and watch for the signs. One key thing to look for is whether or not you are experiencing micro sleeps. Essentially, your body is telling you it needs to rest, and when this issue is not addressed you may start to experience involuntary moments of sleep. Micro-sleeps can happen at the worst times! During a meeting, during a lecture, even during a conversation with a friend... we feel our head start to nod and are usually awakened by a concerned co-worker or peer... or even the start of drool down our cheek. Definitely embarrassing, these micro sleeps can also be extremely dangerous and even fatal. It has been reported that 31 percent of drivers have fallen asleep (micro sleep) at the wheel. These micro sleeps also lead to poor judgment. If at the wrong time, a micro sleep can put us and anyone around us in great danger.
Unfortunately, what do most of us do when we can’t shake the Zzzz's? We resort to some type of stimulant to "wake us up." Coffee, energy drinks, supplements, nicotine, etc. The list could go on and on. Stimulants fuel the awakened state of the mind and it becomes hyperactive. Essentially, we trick our brains into thinking that it is time to be awake and we disrupt the electrical functions of our brains. We then have trouble falling asleep at night, and some of us rely on depressants, such as alcohol or sleeping aids to fall asleep; however these sedate us rather than induce healthy sleep. Only further damage occurs from here, and yet we follow the same patterns day after day.
Poor quality and lack of sleep leads to a plethora of unwanted side effects. Poor memory, poor creativity, and irritability are just a few. Aside from side effects, improper sleeping habits can lead to weight gain, trigger our stress response, and affect our delicate hormone balance. There are at least 10 different hormones and neurotransmitters in the brain that function improperly when we don't sleep enough. These hormone shifts lead to changes in our appetite, fertility, mental health, etc. It's no wonder we aren't the friendliest people when we are tired... everything is irregularly wired!
Healthy sleeping patterns can help prevent all of those side effects and health issues plus more. While we sleep, three major functions occur:
- Restoration. While we sleep, our brain rebuilds and restores the body's energy sources. It works to prepare our body for the next day’s work, ensuring that it is properly fueled and functioning.
- Energy Conservation. Going along with restoring our energy sources, our body conserves energy while we sleep. This way our body is not running on empty throughout the day!
- Memory Processing and Consolidation. Just as any organ in the body, waste needs to be cleared out in order to ensure proper function. While we sleep cerebrospinal fluid flows through our brain, flushing out these products. A good way to think of it is as your kitchen. What would happen if you stopped cleaning your kitchen for a month? Dishes would pile up, bacteria would grow. Eventually, it would be come unlivable. Cleaning the kitchen makes space, protects from infections, etc., just as our brains do while we sleep.
"So, what can I do?"
There are many things we can do to ensure we get the proper amount and quality of sleep that our bodies need.
1) Listen to your body! Our bodies have a unique way of letting us know when we need sleep. Pay attention to those moments when you feel exceptionally fatigued, can’t seem to focus, or you notice changes in your mood, stress levels, and overall health. Plan your day to ensure you can get to sleep by a decent time or allow yourself to take a nap in between activities. The more hours of sleep that you can get before midnight, the better!
2) Take some time to wind down: Prior to going to sleep, chill for a bit! Turn off electronics which excite the brain and seek darkness. Avoid those late night urges to watch television in bed or scroll through the internet on your iPad or phone. Our brains register this light as daytime which stimulates them and prohibiting rest. So instead, dim the lights about an hour before you plan to go to sleep. Use this time to allow your body to adjust and begin to calm down.
3) Make the room slightly chilly: Sleeping in a slightly cool and dark room is the best practice for quality sleep.
4) Watch your sugar and caffeine intake: Especially late in the day. As we get older as well, our ability to process caffeine diminishes, so you might to be able to drink as much caffeine as you used to.
5) Have a warm beverage! Go for a cup of chamomile tea or warm milk, both of which work natural magic on our bodies and promote healthy sleep.
6) Take a little magnesium! Magnesium is one of the few supplements that have studies to back up its effectiveness. 200 to 400 mg of magnesium citrate or glycinate before bed can help relax the nervous system and muscles.
7) Make the room pitch black. Cover all those blinking lights, better yet, unplug all those blinking lights. If you don't have heavy curtains, it's time to invest in some. Ideally, you shouldn't be able to see your hand in front of your face! Even slight light has been shown to hinder melatonin production, which helps us to sleep and to restore.
All in all, pay attention to your body’s needs. Sleep is just as important as exercise and proper nutrition. It is together, that these activities ensure the highest level of health and overall wellness! Written by Ashley Green and Tammy Chang for The Nourished Belly Sources: Main, E. (2014). 9 Foods to Help You Sleep: These Food Cures Will Get You Back to Your Zzzs. Organic Gardening. Retrieved from http://www.organicgardening.com/living/9-foods-to-help-you-sleep?page=0,0 Foster, R. (2013). Why Do We Sleep? TED Talks. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/russell_foster_why_do_we_sleep?language=en Wiley, T. S., Formbly, B. (2000). Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar, and Survival. New York, NY: Pocket Books.