Tuesday October 1, 2019
According to a recent study, as many as 1 in every 3 Americans has trouble getting enough sleep. Whether you have trouble getting to sleep or wake up constantly as you toss and turn during the night, sleep deficiencies can affect you negatively. Insufficient sleep can lead to poor digestion, inadequate absorption of nutrients, chronic systemic stress and inflammation. All of these can ultimately lead to chronic, degenerative diseases which have very serious health and quality of life implications.
Too many people think the only cure for poor sleep, and the accompanying sluggishness, is an extra shot of espresso in the morning coffee or an energy drink (please do not drink energy drinks!) around noon to stave off the drain and lethargy. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
What happens when we don’t get enough sleep?
Although there are debates about how much sleep is necessary, there is a general consensus as to what happens to your body and mind when you don’t get enough sleep. Physically, you can be setting yourself up for some pretty nasty consequences. First among these is a weakened immune system which can lead to getting sick easier and having a harder time recovering from illness. Sleep deprivation has also been found to be linked to cancer and increased heart disease rates. Mentally, a lack of sleep can cause serious cognitive issues. You can have everything from “muddled” thinking, a lack of focus, to memory failure.
Why and how does caffeine keep us awake?
If you are a nerd like me, you may wonder why consuming caffeine late in the day can make it difficult to fall asleep when its bedtime. Our natural drive to sleep is caused by the buildup of adenosine, a chemical that is the by-product of the breakdown of ATP and other energy-producing compounds. The longer you have been awake and utilizing cellular energy, the more tired and worn down you will feel. Caffeine attaches to the adenosine receptors in our body, thus disrupting the natural recognition of the adenosine buildup. In the morning, we may experience a bit of benefit in feeling energized by consuming caffeine, but it can wreak havoc on our natural sleep patterns if we have it too late in the day!
What steps can we take when we just can't get enough sleep?
- Sleep Hygiene
A new term that is creeping into use is the phrase “sleep hygiene,” the overall behaviors that are associated with good sleeping habits. These behaviors include creating a sleep schedule, limiting screen time before bed, and creating an environment which is conducive to rejuvenating sleep. If you can go to bed at the same time each night, you can train your body to sleep better. Additionally, you should limit your screen time by cutting off the electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime and banishing television and tablets from the bedroom. Our natural circadian rhythm also processes cues from light and temperature, so keeping a dark, cool environment is also important for optimal sleep.
- What are some natural sleep aides?
Some natural solutions which people have found helpful are melatonin and lavender. Melatonin is a hormone your body produces to put you into the parasympathetic autonomic system, also referred to as the “rest and digest” mode. It is important to note that melatonin does not actually induce sleep. Instead, the build-up of adenosine, along with the decrease in cortisol, actually induces sleepiness. However, melatonin is a more natural sleep aid than many other options. While it doesn’t work for everyone because of the many factors which affect your sleep, it may be beneficial as a short-term remedy while the underlying cause and more permanent solution is researched. Lavender is an essential oil which helps with relaxation and sleep. Spraying a mist of this on your pillowcase can help you rest and sink into a deep sleep. Diffusing or applying lavender topically can be a powerful part of a calming bedtime ritual which can enhance the sleep hygiene tips mentioned above.
- What resources are available when you need extra help sleeping?
There can be serious medical issues contributing to sleep disorders which may require collaboration with a medical doctor to address. If you’ve tried a number of different approaches and are still in need of help, you may wish to contact your doctor or one of several associations which advocate for sleep health. The National Sleep Foundation and the American Sleep Association have more information about insomnia, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, and other serious sleep problems.
Sleep deficiency affects many people. There are those who stoically soldier on believing there are no solutions. Fortunately, there are ways to improve the quantity and quality of your sleep. When you find the sleep solution which is right for you, you will find your physical health and mental clarity improving as well.