More than a third of North American adults are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis, according to a new study in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Your body needs sleep. It needs sleep just as much as it needs oxygen and food. Without it, it's unable to function at its best. During sleep, your body heals itself and restores its chemical balance. Your brain forges new connections and helps memory retention. Without enough sleep, your brain and body systems won’t function normally. It can also dramatically lower your quality of life. A review of 16 studies found that sleeping for less than 6 to 8 hours a night increases the risk of early death by about 12 percent.
The obvious signs of sleep deprivation are:
- excessive sleepiness
- daytime fatigue
- depressed mood
- difficulty learning new concepts
- inability to concentrate or a "fuzzy" head
- lack of motivation
- increased appetite and carbohydrate cravings
- reduced sex drive
There is no debating the importance of restful, restorative sleep. Managing and preventing sleep deprivation definitely warrants a certain amount of attention. Not getting enough sleep prevents the body from strengthening the immune system. Lack of sleep can also affect body weight. Two hormones in the body, leptin and ghrelin, control feelings of hunger and satiety, or fullness. The levels of these hormones are affected by sleep. Sleep deprivation also causes the release of insulin, which leads to increased fat storage and a higher risk of type 2 diabetes. In addition, insufficient sleep can affect hormone production, including growth hormones and testosterone in men.
The good news is that most of the negative effects of sleep deprivation reverse when sufficient sleep is obtained. The treatment for sleep deprivation is to satisfy the body’s biological sleep need, prevent deprivation and "pay back" the accumulated sleep debt. Yes really, you need to make up for lost time!
When you don’t get the amount of sleep your body needs you start to accumulate a sleep debt. For example, if you need 7 hours of sleep nightly to feel awake and alert and only get 5 hours, you have a sleep debt of 2 hours. If this continues for five nights, you have an accumulated sleep debt of 10 hours.
Some suggestions for good sleep habits include:
- going to bed when you feel tired
- following a consistent routine for bed and wake-up times, even on the weekends
- avoiding eating at least 2 hours before bedtime
- engaging in regular exercise during the day
- keeping the bedroom quiet, dark and comfortably cool
- keeping your bedroom free of electronics and wifi
- paying off the sleep debt
In order to pay back your sleep debt you’ll need to start with getting the amount of sleep you need in a night (usually 7-8 hours) PLUS an extra hour or so every night, until the debt is paid. After that you can drop the additional hour.
If your sleep debt is hundreds or even thousands of hours you need to be aware that you can still overcome it, you just need to allow sufficient time to recover. You will know you have paid back your sleep debt when you wake up feeling refreshed, and you no longer feel drowsy during the day.
While the occasional poor night's sleep is not a serious problem in itself, persistent lack of sleep and/or interrupted and poor quality sleep can be.
Some things to try to help you fall asleep:
- Guided meditation
- Deep breathing
- Get up for a while if you can’t sleep (if you don’t fall asleep within 30 minutes, it’s sometimes helpful to get up for 10 mins).
- Do some yoga
- Do stretching before bed
- Don’t watch scary or suspenseful television before bed
- White noise, like a fan
- Try a sleep hypnosis recording
- Weighted blanket - works like a deep tissue massage, similar to the effect of a dentist’s lead blanket, releasing serotonin throughout your body to help you calm down and relax.
Try some of the techniques listed above, if one doesn't work for you, keep trying until you find that magic combo that works for you. Here's to a Good Night's Sleep!
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