How long do you sleep? How deep do you sleep? Do you wake up refreshed and ready to go?
Nightly sleep for the average American has dropped from 10 hours before the invention of the lightbulb to 6.9 hours, with a third of adults now getting even less than that! In fact, nearly half of all adults admit they sleep less so they can work (or play) more. Sleeping seems like such a waste of time when there is so much going on in our lives.
Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but sleep is a very necessary part of a healthy lifestyle. Sleep deprivation affects us in more ways than we realize; actually, getting less than 6 hours of sleep can have serious repercussions on our our heath and even our weight–yikes!
Here are the major ways it messes with us:
~Sleep deprivation screws up our body’s normal ability to process and control blood sugar; it becomes hindered as the body’s sensitivity to insulin gets weaker; it makes it difficult for every cell of the body to properly absorb blood sugar.
~Our bodies need to find ways to compensate for neurons not secreting the normal amounts of serotonin and dopamine.
~Lack of sleep upsets the balance of two other hormones that control appetite: ghrelin (hormone that makes us feel hungry) and leptin (hormone signaling the brain that we are full). Less than 8 hours sleep causes ghrelin levels to go up and leptin levels to go down which means that, when sleep deprived, we are set up to feel always hungry and never full no matter how much we eat… You can blame it on sleepless nights from now on!
~Cortisol (weight-related hormone) is not processed as well when you do not sleep enough. Carbohydrate cravings increase as the leptin hormone is negatively affected by sleep deprivation.
~ Deprsssion, decreased ability to focus and irritability are all directly related to lack of sleep! let alone poor productivity!
So, what should we do to get off this “sleep deficit” merry-go-round? Easier said than done for most of us… It’s easy to say, “get more sleep” but what if we’re simply spending frustrating hours tossing and turning, and having trouble finding deep slumber?
For those of us with major sleep issues, a visit with a doctor might be necessary. For all others who just need to get into a habit, here are some basic tips for getting a good night’s sleep:
~Follow a regular schedule and a bedtime routine
~Try to get some natural light in the afternoon each day
~No caffeine later in the day
~Try not to worry about your sleep!
For most of us who are having trouble sleeping, there’s a simple cure: exercise! Working out regularly has been shown to reduce episodes of insomnia. What’s more, it promotes improved sleep quality by producing smoother, more regular transitions between the cycles and phases of sleep. Moderate exercise lasting 20 to 30 minutes three or four times a week generally results in better sleep and more energy. You may have to find your own exercise rhythm-– some people can exercise any time, while others do better if they work out in the morning or afternoon, not near bedtime. But, vigorous exercise during the day and mild exercise before bedtime will not only help you fall asleep and stay asleep more easily, but will increase the amount of time you spend in deepest sleep phase (Stage 4 sleep). In fact, in a study on sleep patterns of adults aged 55 to 75 who were sedentary and troubled by insomnia, exercise was shown to play a key role. Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine asked these adults to exercise 20 to 30 minutes every other day in the afternoon by walking, engaging in low-impact aerobics, and riding a stationary bicycle. The result? Time required to fall asleep was reduced by half, and total sleep time increased by almost one hour.
By the way, if you need more convincing, here are other mental benefits of exercise: it reduces stress by helping to dissipate the lactic acid that accumulates in your blood , sharpens your brain by increasing the amount of oxygen available, eases built-up muscular tension, strengthens and stimulates your heart and lungs, stimulates your nervous system, increases your production of endorphins— those little substances which create a sense of well-being and increase your body’s resistance to pain (“happy hormones”), stimulates release of epinephrine, a hormone that creates a sense of happiness and excitement and increases deep sleep, as the brain compensates for physical stress.