Sleep is one of the best things you can pay attention to from a self-care perspective. It’s also one of the areas however, that is most likely to be neglected. The recommended amount of shut-eye is eight hours a night (preferably more!) but lots of us are falling far short of this and it’s impacting almost every aspect of wellbeing, from health to weight. You can be healthy in every other area of your life but unfortunately, it’s probably not going to do much to counteract the damaging effects of poor sleeping habits.
Sleep is one of the best things you can pay attention to from a self-care perspective. It’s also one of the areas that is most likely to be neglected.
Sleeping: Duration Versus Quality
We’re always being told how many hours we should be sleeping each night but is it really enough?
Quality refers to how well we sleep and is completely different from how long we sleep. It’s pretty easy to tell how long you sleep but the quality of it is a bit tougher to determine.
Poor sleep quality means that you’re not sleeping in line with your circadian rhythm or going through all of the important sleep phases (particularly with REM sleep).
Some of the signs that your snooze quality isn’t as good as it could include:
- Waking up during the night
- Not waking up naturally e.g. you have to be abruptly awoken by your alarm clock most mornings
Sleep and Health
What exactly does your body experience when you don’t get enough sleep? Pretty much everything is affected. Here are some of the more serious issues that poor snooze patterns can have on your health:
- Lower immunity. If you seem to get every cough and cold going, your slumber habits may be to blame. In one study, researchers deliberately exposed people to the common cold virus to see how likely they were to go onto develop a cold. Participants who had been sleeping for less than 7 hours per night had lower immunity and were almost 3 times more likely to be impacted. Even a small sleep debt has been linked to lower immunity.
- Higher risk of heart disease and stroke. Studies have looked at the link between lack of sleep and developing heart disease and stroke and it’s a scary connection. Getting less than 7 to 8 hours of shut-eye per night means a higher chance of developing Coronary Heart Disease or having a stroke – and dying from it.
- Higher risk of diabetes. A sleep debt can pave the way for developing Type 2 diabetes. In this study, just a week of not sleeping well-reduced insulin sensitivity and raised concerns about whether consistently sleeping badly might open the door to developing health issues linked to insulin resistance.
- Increased inflammation. Inflammation is now linked to lots of different health problems and can be increased by sleep loss.
Sleep and Cognition
You’ve likely heard that eating the right foods can boost your brain health. It’s not just diet can affect your memory and concentration.
Sleep is an important factor too, and lack of it can impair both. In fact, one study has suggested that even moderate sleep issues can be as damaging as alcohol in affecting performance!
The deeper stages of sleep are particularly vital when it comes to clear thinking, focus, memory, and learning. Your brain is busy during the night when you are asleep. It does a lot of its mental ‘sorting’, such as filtering out information that isn’t really needed right then. It doesn’t sound a lot but it all adds up to better cognition and performance.
Sleep and Weight Gain
If you don’t snooze well, it can be a lot harder to maintain a healthy weight. The main problem? It sends your metabolism a little bit crazy and can ruin your good intentions for eating well.
Lack of high-quality Zzzz’s negatively impacts hormones that are linked to appetite – namely leptin and ghrelin. Leptin helps to keep your appetite in check while ghrelin does the opposite.
Ideally, you want to have more leptin and less ghrelin but not getting enough shut-eye throws this balance out and effectively switches them around. This means you’re a lot more likely to overeat, even when you’re technically full. And you’ll find it harder to shift stubborn fat on your stomach, as sleep deprivation encourages fat to build up in this area in particular.
Improving Your Sleep Quality
Some of the things you can do to try to get better quality slumber each night include:
- Making your room as dark as possible to support your circadian rhythm. Pitch black (or as close to it as you can get) is best.
- Setting a bedtime routine that involves going to bed at the same time every night and getting up at a specific time each morning.
- Turn off electronic devices at least an hour before bed (even your phone!) to reduce your exposure to ‘blue light’ just before bedtime. This ‘blue light’ inhibits your body from producing enough, melatonin to help you sleep well.
If you haven’t been building a routine around your nightly snooze-fest as a key part of your wellness routine, it’s definitely time to change that! How well do you handle your nighttime routine?
Comment below we’d love to know more about your status!