When I was younger, I’m sure I slept well. I mean, I was a teenager a gazillion years ago. I could sleep like the dead back then. Perhaps it changed when I was in college. I pulled all nighters studying for exams, out late
partying caring for the homeless, and God knows what else. I did find time to nap to still get in my zzz’s.
But then came real life. Along came the full-time job and there went the afternoon nap. Oh, I still found myself up late at night either at the gym or a very late happy hour with co-workers. The sleep hour count took a steep nose dive when I started having kids. This night owl had a very rude awakening, literally, when I found myself getting a couple of hours of sleep at a time. Did I adjust my bedtime to accommodate my new crying alarm clock? Nope. While I was exhausted during the day, I never fell into bed at the end of the day. It’s like I would get a second wind.
I continued the trend well into my middle life and up until recently learned that I had been sabotaging the healthy eating and working out I had been doing. Lack of sleep (less than six hours) causes all kinds of havoc in the body. Let me list off a few doozies:
- weight gain
- slow metabolism
I could probably stop right there because that should be enough to scare you into running for your bed right now. But no, there’s more, much more.
- accelerates aging (are you brushing your teeth yet?)
- serious health issues like obesity, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease
- low sex drive (this could be a win for some)
- weakened immune system
- mood disorders
- and the biggie, life expectancy
So, have I got your attention yet? Has anyone read Thrive by Arianna Huffington? The whole reason for her writing the book started with her lack of sleep. She had a major health breakdown from trying to do it all. It’s a pretty good read and will make you stop and think about how you are living your days also.
You may be wondering how does lack of sleep cause all of these breakdowns in our bodies. I’ll give you the Cliff Notes real quick.
Weight gain/slow metabolism: When we sleep, our bodies secrete hormones that control hunger, metabolism, how we process glucose. When we don’t get enough sleep, our bodies produce more cortisol (a stress hormone) than we need or can use. Poor sleep also causes a rise in insulin and the excess gets stored in our fat cells. Another kick in the teeth is lack of sleep increases the production of a hormone called ghrelin (the hormone that stimulates your appetite) and lowers leptin (the hormone that tells your body its full).
Diabetes/Obesity: Lack of sleep causes us to process glucose more slowly therefore keeping levels elevated (which is related to that high levels of insulin part I mentioned earlier). High levels of glucose means diabetes.
Mood disorders: Insomnia has a direct link to depression. Lack of sleep is also connected with anxiety, stress, mental exhaustion (remember those early parenthood days?!), anger issues, etc.
Chronic disease: Sleep deprivation lowers the immune systems, raises inflammation, and puts the body in a elevated level of stress. This makes for the perfect conditions for diseases to thrive.
What can you do? Here’s a few tried and true ways to get your body to relax and prepare itself for bed.
- Turn off the lights. Get lots of light during the day but minimize light at night. You’re not going to like this but this means nixing the screen time (TV, computer, smartphone, iPad) before bed. Large amounts of white and blue lights reduce the production of sleep-inducing melatonin. No melatonin means insomnia and that’s no good. Use dim lights or anything that offers more of a yellow, orange, or reddish glow. Salt lamps are great options.
- If you’re feeling stressed or anxious, try meditating. I love this phone app called Insight Timer that offers guided meditation. It’s free and you can choose from a variety of mood enhancing meditations. Browse the playlist option, select sleep, and take your pick. Meditation is slows your breathing and stops the mind chatter that keeps you up.
- Take a hot bath. I love adding essential oils to my Epsom salt baths for a double dose of relaxation. I get aromatherapy along with the magnesium that helps induce sleep. My favorite oils to use are lavender, roman chamomile, dōTERRA’s Serenity blend, Cedarwood, and dōTERRA’s Peace aromatherapy blend. (If you want to know more about essential oils, click here.
- Keep your bedroom cool. Shut your vents at night or open the window to help bring on the Sandman. Studies show keeping the bedroom between 60-68 degrees is the best range for great sleep.
- Stick to a bedtime routine. Bath/shower, wash face, brush teeth, book, meditate, cup of herbal tea, whatever. If you develop a routine, your body will start to recognize the signs it will be going to bed soon.
- Turn your WIFI off at night or at least switch your devices to airplane mode. If you’re using your phone as an alarm clock, don’t worry, it will still work. EMF’s can mess with your pineal gland which is where melatonin is produced. Melatonin is our friend. We need melatonin. We don’t need the internet while we sleep so turn that baby off.
- No caffeine, alcohol, or tobacco before bed. Caffeine is an obvious stimulant as well as tobacco. Alcohol may seem like a sedative but that quickly wears off and you end up waking up often or tossing and turning. Been there too many times and anymore, it’s just not worth the misery at 3 a.m.
It’s time to bring your sleepyhead self back from the dead and strive for those precious life-giving eight hours of sleep a night. I’ve given you a long list of healthy reasons why sleep is important and they’re exactly why I’m making it a priority for myself and my family.
Why are you still here?! Shut your computer down and get your ass in bed. I promise your spouse will love you for it. 😉