Most of us are familiar with the way we feel after a sleepless night. We tend to be grouchy, less than our happy selves and perhaps make food choices that we do not normally make. When the occasional sleepless night becomes more frequent or we have problems either getting to sleep or staying asleep, we develop more serious health problems than being less than tolerant of others.
Researchers at Harvard University have demonstrated that chronic sleep deprivation leads to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and a decrease in mortality. How can missing out on some sleep do all that? It all centers around hormones, those biochemicals that control so much of what goes on in our body. While we sleep, our bodies secrete hormones that control appetite, energy metabolism, and glucose processing. Poor sleep leads to an increase in the stress hormone, cortisol, and also an increase in the release of insulin following a meal. It is insulin’s job to escort glucose into our storage or fat cells. When there is more insulin than sugars that need storing, our brains signal us to eat more.
Our bodies also use the time during sleep for muscle growth, tissue repair, protein synthesis, and to release growth hormone. Also, studies have been done that show that when we sleep our brains are processing information. So, while it may be okay to cram for a test, getting your sleep before that test is just as important to help your brain assimilate the information. Teenagers require between 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night. So you are not being the mean, horrible parent they claim you are when you set an early bedtime for them and hold them to it. You are helping them learn and setting a good path for their health and their education.
Sleep is so important but with today’s modern technology more and more people suffer from sleep issues. We no longer go to sleep when it’s dark out and wake up when the sun comes up. Thanks to the television and computer, we have things that occupy our attention, alter our sleep hormones, and cause us stress at all hours of the day and night. When we expose ourselves to stressful things at night – a disturbing t.v. show, upsetting email, or a book with a disturbing topic, we increase the level of cortisol in our bodies which is a stress hormone. An increase in cortisol also decreases our level of melatonin which is the hormone that promotes sleep. To get back into the rhythm of a healthy sleep pattern, practice good sleep hygiene:
- Turn off all screens a minimum of one hour before bed. This includes the t.v., (I promise you, you won’t miss anything!), the computer, e-reader, and phone.
- Do something calming to get ready for bed.
- Light a candle, meditate, read something light not something that will disturb you, take a bath, go for a walk, practice some gentle yoga. This is your time. Do something you enjoy that relaxes you.
- Make sure your bedroom is at a good temperature for sleeping. Do not keep it too hot or too cold.
- Use room darkening shades and a sound machine to block noise if necessary.
Good sleep is important. It is the body’s time to heal and rejuvenate. If practicing good sleep hygiene for a week does not help with your sleep issues, contact me and we will explore other options for you.
What are some things that you do to help calm and relax you before bed?