By Heather L. Dyson
With so many streaming services and binge-worthy TV shows out there today, it is all too easy to neglect sleep and tell ourselves, “Just one more.” But night after night of pushing your bedtime further out can cause some major disruptions to your physical and mental health without you even realizing it. Our bodies need those essential 8 hours of sleep to repair and recover, and without it, we may be at risk for health issues down the road.
Risks of Sleep Deprivation
Obesity and weight gain are a huge concern for people that consistently have inconsistent sleep. During sleep, certain hormones are regulated in order to keep us healthy. Two hormones ghrelin and leptin are responsible for hunger and have been found in much higher amounts in people that are sleep-deprived. This means that people missing out on critical sleep are experiencing a bigger appetite, which may lead to overeating, binge eating, excessive snacking, and even a drive to consume foods rich in fats and carbohydrates (1). Additionally, metabolism is negatively impacted with insufficient sleep, meaning your body’s ability to process food is slowed. An increased appetite and decreased metabolism is a recipe for disaster!
This can have somewhat of a snowball effect since obesity is linked to a number of other health diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disorders. To compound the issue, lack of sleep alone has its own negative impacts on these conditions. Losing even 2 hours of sleep a day can wreak havoc on your body’s resistance to insulin and tolerance to glucose, which can contribute to the development of Type II Diabetes (2). Additionally, poor sleep and shortened sleep has also been linked to high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, and atherosclerosis, which are serious problems that can affect your heart health (2).
Our physical health isn’t the only thing that is affected by poor sleep. What may present itself initially as moodiness or irritability from being tired can easily slide into states of anxiety or depression. While we sleep, our brains are hard at work locking in memories and thoughts. When this sleep is disrupted or shortened, it can harm the brain’s ability to consolidate positive emotional content, leading to negative mood and emotional reactivity (3). Our ability to cope with everyday stressors is also weakened when we do not have adequate sleep, and further perpetuates negative moods and feelings of irritability, anxiety, and depression.
How to Improve Sleep
So we can see how important it is to get enough sleep, but how do we actually accomplish this? One of the most important things is to stick to a routine as much as possible by setting a realistic and healthy bedtime for yourself. Regular exercise can help promote tiredness at the end of the day, as can daily exposure to natural light throughout the day. It’s also important to be mindful about what you consume close to bedtime, as alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, and sugary foods can all disrupt or delay sleep.
Additionally, you’ll want to pick a time to turn off the electronics so they don’t disrupt your ability to fall asleep. The blue light from electronics is very stimulating and has been linked to disrupting circadian rhythms, making it harder to become sleepy when doing things like using your phone or watching TV. A good rule of thumb is to turn off the electronics for at least a half hour before you wish to fall asleep. This doesn’t mean you have to lie awake in bed staring at the ceiling for 30 minutes. Find something enjoyable to do away from the screens that helps you relax and wind-down for the day. From meditation to reading, there are many calming activities you can practice to help you drift off to sleep with ease every night.
Though most of us love sleep, it still isn’t easy to change these habits. It takes time and dedication to make successfully alter lifestyle choices, and this is one that is worth sticking to. In the long run, your body will thank you for it.