I love to sleep. But with my mind going 100 miles an hour, the menopause thing going on and a lot of other things, it doesn’t come as easy as it used to when I was a kid. That’s a bummer, to say the least. Because Sleep deprivation does the following to our lovely bodies:
~messes with its normal ability to process and control blood sugar becomes hindered as the body’s sensitivity to insulin gets weaker, making it difficult for every cell of the body to properly absorb blood sugar.
~forces your body to find ways to compensate for neurons not secreting the normal amounts of serotonin and dopamine.
~upsets the balance of two other hormones that control appetite: ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin makes you feel hungry and leptin tells 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 carbohydrate cravings increase even though the requirements might be met; we are set up big time. Yikes! So we better stop feeling guilty about hunger when we did not sleep–it’s not lack of self-control!
~Cortisol (another weight-related hormone) is not processed as well when we don’t sleep enough.
~Depression, decreased ability to focus and irritability are all directly related to losing sleep!
And did you know that 42% of all healthy, middle-aged women in the United States report some kind of sleep trouble, including difficulty falling asleep, waking up during the night, or not feeling refreshed in the morning.
Sleep is a “mind-body” experience.
There’s no doubt that from a physiological standpoint that sleep is a complicated event related to many factors that cut across the “mind-body” spectrum. When we can’t get to sleep because we’re worried and feeling anxious, or depressed and feeling down, or confused and can’t figure something out, we obviously aren’t going to get to the root of our sleep trouble until we’re able to work through the parts of our lives that we’re feeling anxious or depressed about. At the same time, however, nutrition also influences our sleep. So let’s not overlook the way we eat!
Sleep has a lot to do with what we eat.
Patterns and timing make a difference. We’ve all heard the advice, “don’t eat a big meal too close to bedtime.” Although this advice sounds simple, it’s actually very important and not that easy to follow. We often eat a meal late at night-within two hours of bedtime-precisely because we haven’t made time during the day to enjoy food. In fact, we let ourselves get so hungry that we don’t really care any more about the joy of eating. We just want something in our stomach! Research shows that the timing and size of our evening meal is closely related to the timing and size of our other meals throughout the day. When we have a cup of coffee in the car on the way to work, grab a sandwich for lunch, or take care of all the household chores before getting around to dinner, we are setting ourselves up for a bad night’s sleep.
A large meal asks our circulatory system to move more blood to our digestive tract. It asks our stomach to secrete more gastric acid. It asks our pancreas to become more active and produce digestive enzymes. It asks the smooth muscles around our intestines to become active. In short, when it comes to our physiology, a large meal does anything but relax us. In addition, our digestive tracts are set up to work best when we are standing; lying down results in gravity pulling the “wrong way” to help foods digest. Even though the practice of napping after a meal is common, it isn’t ideal from the standpoint of digestion. Sitting and resting are fine. For example, enjoying each other’s company around the table after a delicious meal is a good idea. But lying down to sleep just doesn’t help digestion.
It’s also worth thinking about the physiological purpose of eating in regard to late-night meals. Nutrients and energy get released from food after we eat, not before. They help increase our vitality hours after the meal has been eaten; they cannot go back and compensate for a prior day’s worth of activity that received no nutritional support. The time to have our largest meal is always before we need the most nutritional support, i.e., before we have the most physically demanding part of our day. Sleep is the least physically demanding part of the day, and the least logical target for release of food energy and nutrients. We tell ourselves we’ve had a hard day, and we’re starved, but at this point, it’s too late to repair any nutritional damage done. We need the nourishment before the hard day (and hopefully it will make the day less difficult). I should also mention how important it is not to go to bed actually hungry; this can interfere with sleep, usually by failing to keep the brain supplied with enough glucose (sugar).
So here are a few other tips to help you get 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 and no heavy meal before bed
~Too much alcohol interferes with sleep as well
~Exercise a bit more
~Make sure bedroom is restful: cool temperature, good ventilation, comfortable mattress/pillow, dark shades.
~Try not to worry about your sleep!
~Natural sleep-inducing tactics: warm bath, white noise (sound spa, fan), chamomile tea, lavender aromatherapy oil on pillow
~Watch the timing of some meds.