It’s been a few days and I’m starting to lose it. Like really lose it.
My mind is racing, my thoughts are muddied and I’m more irritable than anyone has a right to be. My blood pressure is up, my immune system is trashed, and my blood work is borderline diabetic. I continue to push forward despite these effects, and after a few more days the feelings of anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts are nearly too much to bear. The last thought I have before falling into delusional thinking, extreme paranoia and deep psychosis is, “this was a really bad idea”.
This was just a simulation of what you would experience if you decided to stop sleeping altogether and shows the drastic effects of sleep deprivation. What it doesn’t show, is some of the less drastic but still important effects that shortened sleep and sleep disruptions can have on your health. Things like increased blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease, reduced insulin sensitivity and risk of type 2 diabetes, chronic inflammation and internal stress, reduced cognition and memory, increased feelings of anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts, disrupted hunger hormones and increased likelihood of weight gain and obesity related diseases, and much more. It’s easy to see that sleep should be taken seriously, but with over a third of the adult population reporting less than 6 hours of sleep, it’s obvious that something is missing.
Sleep is the most often overlooked component of health. In a world of waist trainers, fad diets, and extreme workouts, sleep looks boring and doesn’t produce the Instagram worthy photos and videos for the world to see. It isn’t glamorous, it lacks flash, and can’t match up to a sweat dripping workout or #fitspo healthy meal. But what sleep lacks in outward appearances, it more than makes up for in the benefits that it provides. If you’re serious about your health, start prioritizing your sleep and reaping the benefits of a healthier mind and body.
Timing and Routine is Everything
For quality sleep, timing and routine are imperative. Start by figuring out what time you need to be up each day and then work 7-8 hours backward to figure out what time you need to fall asleep. When you have that time set, make sure that you’re in bed and performing calming activities, like reading, writing, stretching or deep breathing, 30-60 minutes before your set time to fall asleep. Build a routine prior to bed that helps to signify that it’s time to sleep, while also helping calm you down and relax you for sleep. Try to fall asleep and wake up at roughly the same time every day. I know that weekends can be difficult, but the more rigid you are with your sleep schedule, the easier it will be to fall asleep, stay asleep and achieve quality sleep.
Switch to the Dark Side
Darkness sends a signal through your eyes into your brain that it’s time to rest. The eyes play the largest role in your circadian rhythm, which manages a whole host of processes that regulate the normal functioning of your brain and body. If you want to improve your sleep, you need to avoid bright lights at nighttime (TVs, phones, computers, etc) and make your room as dark as possible to facilitate melatonin production and quality sleep.
Keep it Cool
To fall asleep your body temperature needs to drop a degree or two. This is why a hot shower or bath before bed can help you fall asleep as your body tries to rapidly cool off after the shower, dropping your internal temperature and preparing you for sleep. You don’t need to plan on a shower or bath each night, though it’s not a bad option, but make sure your room is nice and cool to ensure that your body is primed and ready for sleep. Use a fan, window AC unit, or other tools to keep your room at 68-70 degrees Fahrenheit. This will ensure your body is cooling down and ready for a night of rest.
Avoid Sleep Killing Substances
Alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine are 3 of the most commonly abused substances that negatively affect your sleep.
Though alcohol may make you feel sleepy, it can derail the stages of your sleep and cause you to wake up feeling tired, despite sleeping long enough. If you’re going to consume alcohol, make sure to have your last drink at least 2 hours prior to falling asleep to ensure that your sleep isn’t disrupted.
Nicotine is lesser known for its negative effects on sleep, though it acts as a stimulant and can either keep you awake or have a negative effect on sleep after you’ve fallen asleep. Though I think it’s best to avoid nicotine altogether, if you’re a smoker or someone who uses nicotine in any capacity, avoid it 2 hours prior to bed just like alcohol.
Caffeine is the most widely used substance in the world. And while they’re plenty of benefits to caffeine, a good night’s sleep is not one of them. The problem with caffeine is that it has a long half-life, extending anywhere from 3-8 hours depending on the individual and how much caffeine they’ve consumed. This means that a cup of coffee consumed at 4pm could leave half a cup’s worth of caffeine in your system at midnight and have a major impact on your sleep. Cut your caffeine intake at noon so that your cup, or two, of coffee doesn’t cost you the health impacts of a good night’s sleep.
If you’re someone focused on their health and wellness, but you’re not prioritizing sleep, I hope I’ve done my job to not only show you the important of sleep, but exactly how to ensure you’re getting enough of it (and high quality). If you want to look better, losing more weight and less muscle, feel better, having less anxiety and depression, and live longer, than you absolutely need to make sleep one of the most important components of your health and wellness program.
Need help with a health program? Not sure how to make sleep work for you?
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