Have you noticed that people are becoming busier and busier? Maybe your days have become even more full with work life, family life, social networking, streaming digital TV and any other number of things. Do you find that in order to pack all of these activities into each day… your sleep takes a hit? Or do you find at the end of the day you just can’t shut your mind off enough to drift off to sleep?
We’ve all known those people who swear they can “get by” on little sleep and still feel and perform fine. But some of the clues of sleep deprivation, such as headaches and trouble focusing, can be shrugged off or passed off as related to something else.
The truth is, sleep deprivation can lead to more severe health issues, and even life-threatening ones. Though more research needs to be done, what has been conducted already has linked a consistent lack of sleep with the following conditions:
If you find you’ve been binging late at night on cookies and ice cream, it’s not because you’re a bad person who makes crappy food choices (although we’ve never personally met you), it’s more likely due to the fact that when you are deficient on sleep, your body’s two appetite hormones get out of whack.
Leptin, the hormone that controls our appetite, is diminished and ghrelin, the hormone that makes you want to eat and eat, increases. Essentially, the more ghrelin swimming through your system, the more you want to eat and eat.
There is also the aspect of not having enough energy to exercise that links sleep deprivation with obesity.
Heart Disease and Stroke
Lack of sleep also causes more stress hormones to be released into your systems, and over time, these can really wreak havoc on your heart. Stress hormones can damage blood vessels which can lead to high blood pressure, which in turn, can lead to heart disease and stroke.
If you’re someone who already suffers from hypertension, sleep deprivation can make it worse. Lack of sleep actually activates the nervous system in a particular way which can have even stronger effects on those with high blood pressure. If you’re a man, the news is even more grim. If you are sleep deprived, either due to too few hours in the day or sleep apnea, you have an increased risk for heart disease and death.
In 2007, researchers from the University of Chicago found that “partial sleep loss may increase the risk of obesity and diabetes via multiple pathways.” It’s not just that the body plays with the level of appetite hormones, but that the body becomes impaired and cannot handle glucose loads.
Did you know that the chemicals in your brain responsible for the sleep-wake cycle are also involved in defining your mood? Scientists aren’t sure of the exact mechanics of it all, but they know the link is there. Too little sleep night after night has the ability to make a person become very depressed.
Decrease in Neurological Functions
Sleep deprivation has been linked to various types of neurological functions. For example, lack of sleep makes driving dangerous as you lack full attention and reaction times are slower. Kids will perform poorly on tests if they haven’t slept well the night before, and employees become irritable to their co-workers.
As you can see, not all of these conditions are a result of years and years of sleep deprivation. Some, like delayed reactions times, glucose load, hormone imbalances and depression can begin after just one night of sleeping less than six hours.
With this in mind, here are 5 easy steps to improving your sleep:
1. Eat Foods with Melatonin
The CDC recommends that we avoid big, heavy meals before bed, but if you’re someone who has trouble falling asleep, it’s a good idea to snack on foods that provide melatonin, the chemical our bodies secrete at night to makes us sleepy.
Foods like cherries, tomatoes, rice, walnuts, olives and milk can all give us a melatonin boost.
2. Listen to Music
You probably already know how relaxed you can feel when you listen to music (unless you’re listening to metal or punk). Studies in the Journal of Advanced Nursing suggest that music is a wonderful way to help you fall asleep. So the next time you find yourself tossing and turning, grab your iPod and listen to something soft and calming and see if you’re not lulled to dreamland.
Not everyone has embraced aromatherapy and that’s too bad because studies have shown certain scents have the power to relieve insomnia. For instance, according to studies in the journal Chronobiology International, aromatic wafts of lavender offer relief to those who struggle to fall asleep each night.
And, according to the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine , the scents of chamomile and ylang-ylang may also induce sleepiness. The irony is that people who have gone too long without sleep start to lose their ability to identify different scents.
4. Turn Down Your Heat
A study in the journal La Presse Medicale suggest that people sleep better when the temperature is between 61 to 66 degrees Fahrenheit. When we sleep our core body temperature drops but the temperature in our hands and feet rises when our blood vessels dilate and radiate heat outward. So, turn down your heat and see if you don’t fall asleep faster and easier. The best part is, you’ll also save on heating bills.
5. Try Repetitive Motion
Ever wonder why babies get rocked to sleep, or why adults sleep better on trains? It’s because repetitive motion helps us relax and drift off. You can create your own repetitive motion by curling and uncurling your toes (no really, try it), or contracting and releasing any other muscle groups in your legs, arms or abdomen.
Though the ramifications of getting too little sleep are obvious and oftentimes serious, you shouldn’t lose sleep over it. Try these sleep aid tricks the next time you’re having trouble falling off and see if they don’t work like a charm.
If you can think of any more sleep aid tricks… Please share in the comments below!