Sleep - Are you getting enough?

Friday, April 18, 2014

So I mentioned - VERY briefly - in my last post that a lack of sleep is something that is extremely detrimental to my physical and mental health.  Did you know that I am not unique in that?  Did you know that sleep is essential to many of your body's processes?

So what happens during sleep?

There are four identified stages of sleep, but it's the last two that really pack a punch.  In these two stages your blood pressure drops, your tissues begin to repair themselves, and hormones are regulated.  Cortisol (you know, that stress hormone you hear so much about?) drops, and human growth hormone is released.  In case you're wondering, growth hormone is necessary for muscle development and cellular repair.  And then there are two more hormones you may or may not be familiar with:  ghrelin and leptin. 

Ghrelin increases hunger while leptin increases the feeling of satiety.  Guess what happens when you're not rested?  Ghrelin increases, and leptin decreases.  Have you ever been really "hungry" late at night?  It has a lot to do with how late you are actually staying up!  There are even studies that suggest that one more hour of sleep per day in sleep-deprived people can actually help weight loss!

What happens if you don't get enough sleep?

  1. Your brain doesn't function as well.  Your creativity dips.  Connections aren't made as quickly.
  2. You are more easily overwhelmed, irritated and impatient.
  3. You are less focused.
  4. You more easily gain weight.
  5. Perhaps the most telling effect is that when you are sleep-deprived, you function the same as if you were drunk.  Yep, you read that right!  It's equivalent to having a blood alcohol level of 0.1 - which, in case you're wondering, is illegal in all 50 US states. Oh, and some states ARE starting to ticket visibly exhausted people.

How do you increase the amount of restful sleep?

  • Try taking a hot shower or a bath just before bed.   When you get out, your body temperature naturally drops, priming your body for what normally happens with sleep.
  • Have a consistent sleep schedule.  For the first 29 years of my life, I always had an erratic sleep schedule.  It drove my husband NUTS.  And his constant harping that I needed a consistent schedule drove ME nuts!  Turns out, though, he was right!  A consistent schedule - even on weekends - is paramount to being well-rested.
  • Create a sleep-conducive environment.  The room should be dark (blackout curtains are my best friends!) and quiet and cool.  Again, mimic what happens naturally with your body when it sleeps.
  • Exercise regularly (really!) but be sure to complete exercise approximately 3 hours before bedtime.  This may be the single most important aspect of my own sleep improvement.  When I started exercising regularly, my body naturally slept more soundly on a regular basis. 
  • Avoid caffeine AND alcohol near bedtime.  Caffeine is a stimulant; makes sense to avoid that, right?  Alcohol - while it is a depressant for your system - also has a rebound effect that can wake you throughout the night.  It's best to avoid both.
As a nurse, I used to work every shift, so I do understand that some of these tips may be unreasonable.  However, most CAN be adapted.  How will YOU try and improve your own sleep?

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