The Importance of Sleep
It might sound like a cliche, but SLEEP IS SO IMPORTANT. So much of what happens while we sleep and the science behind WHY we actually need to sleep is still being researched and discovered. But, we know that getting the prescribed 7-9 hours nightly is something that many of us struggle with. There are only so many hours in the day to get that to-do list checked off, right? Well turns out there are a lot of research backed reasons why its not great for our health to be burning the candle at both ends. Read on to learn why it’s better to leave some tasks for tomorrow and prioritize sleep instead!
What happens when we get enough sleep?
- Memory consolidation
- Cellular repair and programmed death
- Metabolic and blood sugar regulation
- Improved mood
- Improved immune function
What happens when we don’t get enough sleep?
- Poor memory and memory loss – Multiple research studies have found a strong link between sleep apnea and/or sleep deprivation and deficits in attention and memory. While we sleep, our brains consolidate memory. Wakefulness or sleep deprivation may hinder this process leading to forgetfulness or trouble concentrating.
- Weight gain – Studies have shown adults who sleep 8 hours have a lower BMI, while those who sleep only six hours per night are more likely to have an elevated BMI.
- Metabolic/Hormonal disruptions – During sleep we excrete hormones that control metabolism, appetite and blood sugar. Not getting enough sleep increases cortisol, one of our main stress hormones and levels of insulin which can lead to increased fat storage and insulin resistance. Not getting enough sleep is also associated with lower levels of leptin (the satiety hormone) and higher levels of ghrelin (the hunger hormone)
- Increased risk of Type 2 Diabetes – Studies have shown short term sleep restriction causes elevated fasting blood sugar which can lead to metabolic syndrome and diabetes.
- Increased blood pressure – Inadequate sleep is correlated with increased risk of stroke and heart disease. There also appears to be a link with sleep apnea and increased blood pressure. People with sleep apnea wake up multiple times nightly and experience brief increases in blood pressure with each wake up which could lead to hypertension down the road.
- Depression/Anxiety – Lack of sleep is associated with increased levels of depression, anxiety and stress. In one study, participants who slept 4 and a half hours nightly reported feelings of mental exhaustion, stress, sadness and anger that improved when allowed to sleep for a normal amount of time.
- Decreased life expectancy – Data from three large studies has shown that sleeping less than 5 hours nightly increases all-cause mortality by roughly 15 percent.
- Increased inflammation – One meta-analysis looked at 72 studies and found associations between sleep disturbances/short sleep duration and increases in CRP and IL-6 (markers of increased inflammation found in the blood).
Tips for Better Sleep
- Keep a routine – go to bed and wake up at the same time, even on the weekends. This will help regulate your circadian rhythm, your sleep/wake cycle governed by a part of your brain called the hypothalamus. The circadian rhythm is impacted by light exposure, exercise and temperature.
- Keep it cool – Try to lower your thermostat to between 60-67 degrees and optimally at 65 at bedtime. Your body naturally starts to decrease its core temperature as it prepares for sleep. This also coincides with the secretion of melatonin.
- Bed is for sleep, sex and sickness – If you are watching TV or doing other activities that keep your brain active you may start to associate your bed with staying awake instead of going to sleep.
- Turn down the lights – Light exposure tells the body it’s time to wake up! Use blue light filtering glasses if you need to be using a screen or watching TV, and dim the lights in your house.
- Take a hot bath – Relaxation is key for getting your body ready for sleep. Practicing some form of self care prior to bedtime can help activate the parasympathetic nervous system, known as the “rest and digest” system which counters your sympathetic nervous system or “fight or flight” system.
- Skip the alcohol – While alcohol may act as a sedative and aid in falling asleep initially, it is linked to more night time wakefulness and sleep disturbances. If you have trouble sleeping, skip the zin!
- Avoid caffeine after 2 PM – Caffeine is stimulating and consuming it in the afternoon is linked to decreases in sleep quality and quantity. Additionally, some people have a genetic variation that causes them to metabolize caffeine very slowly. Switch to decaf or try herbal tea in the afternoon (we suggest avoiding caffeine after 2 PM).
- Turn off screens – We suggest turning off computers and TV an hour before bedtime and switch your phone to night mode if possible to help filter blue light.
- Avoid stimulatory exercise before bed- If you enjoy a higher intensity workout, save it for the morning. High intensity exercise before bed may stimulate the nervous system and increase your heart rate, making it difficult to fall asleep. Stick to light to moderate workouts in the evening like walking, stretching, swimming, biking leisurely and yoga.
- Try sleep meditation or yoga nidra – These can be amazing options to help with winding down and relaxing your mind if you have a hard time drifting off. There are many free apps like Insight Timer or others with paid content like Headspace that might be useful.
- Keep a worry list by your bed – Worrying got you wide awake? Keep a notepad by your bed. If you find thoughts are swirling, write them down then allow yourself to let them go for the night. They will be there waiting for you in the morning, trust us!
Supplements for Sleep
- Valerian – One of the most popular plants for sleep support, valerian has been extensively studied as a sleep aid. Some studies show benefits in sleep duration in doses from 160 to 600 mg. It is thought that valerian interacts with the brain to help reduce anxiety.
- Lavender – Lavender as an oral supplement has been shown to be as effective as the medication lorazepam in reducing anxiety and improving sleep quality
- Passionflower – Some studies show a benefit with combinations of plant compounds. One such study looked at the combination of passionflower, hops and valerian and found improved sleep quality and total sleep time and a reduction in nightly waking episodes.
- Magnesium – Magnesium binds to GABA receptors, activates the parasympathetic nervous system and helps regulate melatonin secretion. Magnesium deficiency is implicated in increased risk of insomnia. Epsom salt baths are a great way to get magnesium and relax!
- Melatonin – Secreted by the pineal gland when it gets dark, melatonin plays an important role in the sleep-wake cycle (or circadian rhythm) is a strong antioxidant and is used for treatment of insomnia and sleep disorders. One meta -analysis found that melatonin decreases the amount of time it takes to fall asleep and increases total sleep time and sleep quality. Other studies found no evidence to support its use in sleep disorders, but since it is considered safe for short term use it’s worthwhile to see if it is helpful, especially for shift workers or those traveling between time zones.
- L-theanine – A unique amino acid that is primarily derived from green and black tea as well as some mushrooms, L-theanine may help to support sleep by promoting relaxation. Some studies show that l-theanine promotes the generation of alpha waves in the brain, which are associated with relaxation. L-theanine is often included in many sleep formulations to help promote feelings of calmness.