Catch Those ZZZs: How Sleep Impacts Your Health
We all know the feeling of when your brain isn’t totally online. When you’re going through the motions of day-to-day life but your body feels like it could use a little more juice…or a lot more. That, my dear friends, is called sleep deprivation. All of us experience this from time to time on some level. There are certain periods in your life where you might get even less sleep, like when you’re building a career, pregnant, or have a baby or toddler. Sleep is often the first thing to be sacrificed when there just aren’t enough hours in the day.
So how does sleep, or sleep deprivation, impact your health? Furthermore, what do you do about it if you’re just not getting enough sleep? Grab your pillow and eye mask and let’s find out! Although maybe wait to put on the eye mask until after you read this.
Sleep and Your Physical Health
When you go to sleep, it isn’t like there’s a switch that all of a sudden switches to “off”. Your body is working hard to reset, recharge, and revitalize the physical processes that keep you moving and grooving. Dr. Michael Twery, a sleep expert at the United States National Institute of Health (NIH), explained that “Sleep affects almost every tissue in our bodies.” Sleep is imperative for immune function, heart health, maintaining your weight, breathing, blood pressure, and so much more.
The hormones that your body releases during sleep help to heal and repair cells and tissues so that you’re ready to go the next day. A lack of sleep on the other hand increases your risk of developing diabetes, obesity, stroke, heart disease, kidney disease, and more. Before you notice any physical issues, you’ll probably notice how a lack of sleep affects your mind.
If I Only Had a Brain!
You might feel like the scarecrow from “The Wizard of Oz” when you’re lacking in the sleep department. One of the biggest ways that sleep impacts your health is your mental health and cognition, aka the ability to think clearly. Sleep is crucial for the ability to have higher reasoning, problem-solving skills, attention to detail, and critical thinking. When you don’t get enough sleep, everything just feels harder. You might be less efficient at work or school, have difficulty carrying on conversations, be more irritable, and even things like driving become more dangerous.
A lack of sleep increases your risk of developing or worsening anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders. You might feel unsettled or not quite present in your body. Sleep deprivation is so rough on the mind and body, so what do you do about it?
Tips on Getting Better Sleep
We apologize if we’re preaching to the choir, but the average adult needs about 7-8 hours of sleep a night to recharge and feel their best. Of course, this is a lot easier said than done sometimes. So how do you help yourself get better sleep?
The first obstacle to sleep is addressing any health issues that may be impacting your sleep. This includes insomnia, sleep apnea, and possibly diabetes if you wake up to use the bathroom frequently. You can get tested for sleep apnea, as well as seek mental health support for insomnia if that’s impacting you on a regular basis. Also in the realm of health is being aware of any medications that might be impacting your sleep.
Then you’ll want to make any lifestyle changes that can help you get better sleep. That includes:
- Managing stress in your everyday life
- Avoiding screens an hour before bed
- Avoiding caffeine past 2 PM
- Avoiding alcohol before bed
- Getting more physical activity during the day
- Eating a balanced diet
- Taking a magnesium supplement before bed
You can also help set yourself up for success by creating a sleep supportive nest. That means taking steps to make your environment as relaxing and sleep-friendly as possible. You might want to consider getting a new mattress and bedding, blackout curtains, keeping your space tidy and reserved for just sleep if possible, using a noise machine, and an eye mask or ear plugs if those work for you.
Be Easy on Yourself
We don’t want to scare you with all this talk of the health consequences of not getting enough sleep. There has to be some part of our biology that is built to be resilient in the face of not sleeping – otherwise, how would we be able to handle being new parents? If you do notice a lack of sleep taking a toll on your physical or mental health, but don’t have the option of sleeping more, there are still small steps you can take to help take care of yourself. Things like meditation, gentle movement, and breathing exercises can all help regulate your nervous system so that you don’t feel as sleep-deprived as you might be.
Above all, be easy on yourself. The last thing you need when you’re already feeling drained is to beat yourself up for not getting enough sleep. That just takes up more energy!