Waking up after a restful night’s sleep is one of the most pleasant feelings. But when times are stressful, many of us don’t get enough sleep. Being sleep-deprived increases our risk for a variety of serious health problems. Even in the midst of unsettling circumstances, building healthy bedtime habits can help you fall and stay asleep, so you stay well and ready to face whatever challenges come your way.
Before we get into the expert advice on sleeping better, let’s explore why it is so important. Sleep may look passive from the outside. However, inside your body many processes are underway. While you snooze, your brain is organizing and storing new information, damaged cells are repaired and replaced throughout your body, essential hormones are replenished and much more, says John Hopkins Medicine. To be sure your body has the time and resources to manage these processes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting seven to eight hours of sleep every night. Growing children need even more.
As many as 70 million Americans report not getting enough sleep on a regular basis, according to the CDC. If you don’t get sufficient sleep one night, you may find it hard to concentrate and remember information the next day. When you are chronically deprived of sleep, you are more likely to be involved in an accident in a car, on the job or even at home. Senior citizens lacking sleep are more prone to falls and broken bones. A lack of sleep can even affect your health in less noticeable, but even more troublesome ways.
Here are five ways that lack of sleep can affect health:
1. Heart Disease
Sleeping less than seven hours a night increased the incidence of coronary heart disease by more than 30 percent among women aged 45 to 65, according to a report, published in Current Cardiology Reviews. The subjects who regularly slept less than six hours each night had an 80 percent higher rate of heart disease.
2. High Blood Pressure
While you are sleeping, your blood pressure and heart rate normally drop, as the demands on your cardiovascular system are diminished. Lack of sleep appears to lead to an increase in blood pressure the following day. “In a study of over 5,500 men and women, those sleeping <6 hours per night were 66% more likely to have hypertension than individuals obtaining between 7-8 hours per night,” says research, published in Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases. They explain that even missing out on sleep for half of the night increased the blood pressure of subjects with hypertension or pre-hypertension.
Insufficient sleep also increases the body’s insulin resistance, says a report, published in Diabetes, Nutrition and Metabolism. Insulin resistance means that your body is not efficiently using the glucose in your food for energy. To make up for it, your pancreas makes more insulin. When that happens continually, your blood sugar levels go up, leaving you at risk for Type 2 diabetes, obesity and a variety of symptoms grouped together into what’s known as “metabolic syndrome.”
Two hormones play a key role in managing your appetite and eating habits. Ghrelin is produced in your body to signal to your brain that you are hungry so you will know when you need to eat. Leptin is produced when you have eaten enough food, letting your brain know your appetite has been satisfied. Lack of sleep increases the production of ghrelin and reduces the leptin in your body, which can cause you to eat more than your body needs, according to research, published in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care. They found that people getting less than seven hours of sleep reported a 14 percent increase in daily calorie consumption. Those excess calories came primarily from carbohydrate-rich foods.
5. Immune System Regulation
During your downtime, your body is busy restoring and managing the key factors in maintaining your health—the cells activated by your immune system. “Prolonged sleep curtailment and the accompanying stress response invoke a persistent unspecific production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, best described as chronic low-grade inflammation, and also produce immunodeficiency, which both have detrimental effects on health,” says research, published in the medical journal Pfluger’s Archive. Getting enough sleep ensures your immune system is best equipped to fight off colds, the flu and other viruses.
Now check out these seven smart sleep strategies for a better slumber:
When your daily routine is disrupted, it can throw off your healthy sleeping habits, too. Here are a few strategies to keep in mind to help you get the rest you need.
1. Keep to your schedule.
Your body’s internal clock is guided by what’s known as “circadian rhythm,” says SleepFoundation.org. This helps manage all of your processes when you are awake and asleep. Keep it functioning smoothly by waking up and going to sleep at about the same time every day, even when your daily life doesn’t demand it. “It’s easier for your mind and body to acclimate to a consistent sleep schedule, which is why health experts have long recommended avoiding major variation in your daily sleep times,” explains SleepFoundation.org.
2. Limit naps.
A brief nap or rest period in the mid-afternoon can be refreshing but avoid snoozing too much in the middle of the day. A 20- to 30-minute nap is enough to restore your energy without preventing you from falling asleep that night.
3. Exercise regularly.
Your daily 30 minutes of activity not only help you lose excess weight, it also ensures you’ll be ready to rest come bedtime. Check out the Fitness section on The Leaf for easy home workouts you can do in your living room!
4. Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
According to SleepFoundation.org, eating a nutritious meal plan and avoiding caffeine and alcohol can help with sleep. Caffeine is a stimulant that can keep you awake, so don’t drink coffee, tea, soda or energy drinks with caffeine in the evening. Alcoholic drinks can leave you feeling tired but don’t let you fall into the deep, restful sleep your body needs. Don’t think of alcohol as an aid when you’re having trouble sleeping because it can be counterproductive. For a nutritious meal plan that is easy to follow, consider a healthy food delivery service like Nutrisystem. We make your favorite meals healthier and perfectly portioned for weight loss.
5. Stay out of bed.
Working or watching TV in bed undermine the psychological triggers for falling asleep that are associated with being in bed, says SleepFoundation.org. Prevent that by getting in bed only when you’re ready to sleep.
6. Relax before sleep time.
The light emitted by screens on televisions, computers, cell phones and tablets reduce your body’s production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates your sleep and wake cycle, says Harvard Health. Lower levels of melatonin make it harder for you to fall and stay asleep. What’s more, scrolling through the news can promote anxiety, which can keep you awake and worrying about how outside events will affect you. Turn off electronic devices two to three hours before you intend to sleep. Instead, read or meditate, which help you to relax and prepare your mind for sleep.
7. Think about breathing.
Nearly all of us have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep from time to time. If you are tossing and turning, try focusing your attention on your breathing, noticing each inhale and exhale. “Deep breathing, stretching, yoga, mindfulness meditation, calming music, and quiet reading are just a few examples of relaxation techniques that you can build into your routines,” says SleepFoundation.org. This can help you find the rhythm that lets you drift off into dream land and get the healthy rest you need.