With the busyness of life and varying seasons, many of us experience short nights and long days. However, a severe imbalance of rest has erupted in the last several decades which has led to an “epidemic” of sleep deprivation (insomnia, sleep apnea, etc.) It is estimated to be “the #1 health problem in America. More than 1/3 of Americans have trouble sleeping every night, and 51% of adults say they have problems sleeping at least a few nights each week. 43% of respondents report that daytime sleepiness interferes with their normal daytime activities.” While the topic of sleep can be quite extensive, I want to simply share with you the role that sleep plays in our health as well as practical tips to support proper sleep habits.
Although sleep may seem to be in a separate category than physical nutrients such as fats, vitamins, minerals, etc. it is definitely a key link to vibrant health. Sleep is necessary for the repair and function of our body and mind. When we lack this “nutrient”, our body actually breaks down and we become vulnerable to many diseases. Here are four roles of sleep:
Sleep is needed to prevent many health conditions- Inflammation increases with sleep deprivation, and as a result, sleep deprivation has been linked to cardiovascular diseases, metabolic disorders, and several types of cancer.
Sleep maintains sharp memory- Most people notice that when they are lacking sleep they start forgetting things. This is because sleep is needed to maintain short-term, long-term, and working memory as well as growth of new nerve cells.
Sleep prevents weight gain and obesity- When we lack sleep, the regulation of our appetite and food intake is disturbed, the ability to digest carbohydrates and produce insulin is impaired, and fatty liver disease may result.
Sleep sustains mental health and mood- Inadequate sleep shuts down the part of the brain responsible for complex behaviors, planning, and personality.
If you have experienced sleep deprivation, the above list is likely of no surprise. The average adult needs 7-9 hours of sleep, and when our lifestyle does not afford this, it is very hard to “catch up.” Also, the hormones which regulate our ability to sleep can quickly become dysregulated due to lack of sleep, poor diet, lack of exercise, and stress. When this happens, falling asleep may be more difficult than making the time for it. Here are some tips for optimizing sleep:
• Plan for 7-9 hours of sleep every night. Our bodies love rhythm and routine. If you go to bed at the same time each night, it will help your body regulate and relax.
• Reduce artificial light (LED light from technological devices) which mess up your sleep pattern (circadian rhythm.) Ideally, you should turn off electronics 1-2 hours before going to bed.
• Clear your mind. If you are overwhelmed with the tasks of tomorrow, write a list of what needs done and then leave the cares for the next day. If something from the past weighs on your mind; journal, pray, and let it go.
• Support your blood sugar handling system with proper nutrition and exercise. Avoid going to bed too full or too hungry. Ideally, finish eating a balanced meal 2-3 hours before bed. Also, supplementing with nutrients such as Magnesium and B Vitamins may be necessary.
• Include regular exercise throughout the week and stretching before bed. This reduces stress, helps you to relax, and also supports blood sugar handling.
In conclusion, it is clear that when we are able to build ourselves up with this “nutrient” of adequate sleep, we will have greater productivity and health. With discipline and implementing the above strategies for better sleep, you will experience new vitality and be on your way to supporting a thriving lifestyle! So, I encourage you to prioritize sleep as part of your lifestyle and even seek professional services to support the root cause if it is an ongoing challenge.