If you don’t get enough sleep, your body over-produces the hormone that tells you that you need food. Your body requires energy, and if you don’t sleep enough, then it will try to get energy through other means. If you ever wondered why you crave a sweet or fatty snack to satisfy your hunger and wake yourself up, you might be affected by sleep deprivation. Sure, the sugar wakes you up, but you are also eating unnecessary calories. Along with not getting enough exercise, this could be a recipe for disaster! Also, a recent article in Scientific American Mind showed that women have more sleep challenges than men because of the hormonal changes we experience during our lives. This is one of the reasons women face a greater challenge than men when it comes to weight loss.
When you are sleep deprived, your body produces less of the hormone that tells you to stop eating and more of the one that tells you to keep eating. Obviously, this will make it very difficult to keep the extra pounds off. It’s important not only to get enough hours of sleep, but the quality of your sleep also affects your energy levels.
Here are a few tips to improve the quality and quantity of sleep you get:
- Get plenty of exercise during the day.
- Avoid caffeine after 2 pm.
- Go with your body’s natural circadian rhythms. Try and go to sleep and wake up at about the same time every day.
- If you are struggling to fall asleep, don’t get stressed about it. Get up and read (obviously not a high suspense thriller) or listen to some soft music and go back to bed when you feel sleepy.
- Mediation is a great way to put yourself to sleep. Everyone knows how frustrating it is when you are trying to go to sleep and your brain refuses to stop making lists! Meditation teaches us to focus on the moment instead of worrying about things that have happened or things that might, but probably will not happen. It’s a lot easier to fall asleep without so much noise in your head.
- Try not to fall asleep when you feel drowsy after dinner. Rather, do something that will keep you awake for a while longer like calling a friend, going for a stroll around the neighborhood, or preparing for the next day.
- Prepare your body and mind for sleep – develop nightly rituals like having a warm bath and meditating or listening to relaxing music before turning in.
- Keep the lighting dim or soft in the evenings so that your brain registers that it’s nighttime and it should wind down and start producing melatonin.
- Try to avoid using your cell phone/iPad/laptop late at night. LEDs, especially blue LEDs, are known to adversely affect sleep patterns. Lighting is key to getting a good night’s rest. Try using black out blinds to keep your room as dark as possible – there is a lot of light pollution in big cities. They are really cheap, easy to install, and they make a big difference.
- Be mindful of what you eat and drink. Don’t eat a heavy meal or drink gallons of fluids before you go to bed – if you do your sleep will more than likely be interrupted by having to get up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. You could also be disturbed by indigestion.
- Avoid things like alcohol and nicotine before bed. Alcohol puts you to sleep, but it also disrupts your sleep later on.
- Set limits on how often your children and pets are allowed to sleep in your bed. I mean, how much quality sleep do you get while trying to balance on the edge of the bed?
- Make your bedroom a haven, a place that is cool, quiet, dimly lit, and welcoming to you.
- Keep your work life out of your bedroom, or at the very least off your bed!
How lack of sleep and stress affect everything
Fatigue caused by sleep deprivation results in stress. Stress affects your auto immune system and when your auto immune system doesn’t function properly, your body is unable to fight infection and you begin to have physical symptoms. When you get sick, your body suffers from fatigue because it’s trying to fight off the illness. Each time you repeat the cycle, your immune system is compromised a bit more.
Studies show that there is a direct relationship between stress and how your immune system functions. When your fight or flight response is activated because you are being charged by a bear, your body produces the hormones adrenaline and cortisol which cause your heart rate to increase, your blood starts to circulate more quickly, and blood is pumped to your legs allowing you to run faster to get away. These hormones also temporarily boost your immune system to help you recover, in case you suffer some sort of injury.
The problem is, when you are constantly stressed because of your circumstances, and these hormones are continually being released into your system it can affect your immune system. The overproduction of some immune factors associated with recovery from serious injury can cause premature aging, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, cancer and Alzheimer’s.
The constant presence of these hormones overtaxes your immune system which then becomes very slow to respond to the threat of infection. So you are much more likely to pick up a bug of some sort, such as the common cold.
So, in summary, the best thing you can do for your health is to find a way of dealing with stress. It is futile to imagine a world where there is no stress, but the important thing is to find a way to manage that stress. Getting enough sleep is the first step. Easy, right?! Stay tuned for more on how to manage stress.