My family (especially my husband) knows that when I don’t get enough sleep, they should do one of two things:
1. Stay away from the monster!
2. Quick, say something funny, because she might be a little slap-happy!
All joking aside, lack of sleep really does affect my mood. I can also see how sleep (or the lack thereof) impacts my workouts, my choice of what I eat, and my mental clarity/focus.
I’m sure many of you can relate. We’re all aware of the fact that sleep is good and healthy…aaand most of us know we could use a little more of it. But have you ever stopped to think about the long-term negative effects of sleep deprivation?
Have you considered that sleep could be the missing factor in your low energy levels…your struggle to burn fat or build muscle…your constant feelings of stress.
I will say, that sleep is not ALWAYS going to be the ONE factor that fixes everything. But sleep is a very KEY factor…not only with our energy and metabolism, but in our long-term health. Some experts even say that sleep is more important than your diet and exercise.
Does that seem shocking to you? It was to me. But then as I heard it explained, it started making sense.
I’ve since been focusing on making sleep a priority in my own life. It’s totally my new hobby. 😉
Here’s a look at all of the negative effects of sleep deprivation, so you understand why sleep is my new obsession.
Negative Effects of Sleep Deprivation
- Digestive System– a disruption of our natural sleep/wake cycles can disrupt our gut’s microbiome. And in reverse, poor gut health can negatively affect the hormones that regulate sleep. Here’s a really fascinating article about the sleep-gut connection.
- Hormone Balance– we have hormones in our body that are responsible for regulating our sleep, energy, appetites, aging, and much more. Sleep deprivation can have a very negative affect on our endocrine system. More on this later.
- Immune System– we all want to avoid getting sick, and sleep deprivation weakens our immune system
- Natural Hunger Signals – lack of sleep can mess with your “hunger” hormones. These hormones (ghrelin and leptin) stimulate your appetite, and signal when you are full. Not getting proper sleep can lead to an imbalance of these, meaning you’ll feel hungrier for more than your body really needs, and not feel as satiated/satisfied when you do eat
- Thyroid/Adrenal Gland Health– Not getting enough sleep is a good way to wear down your adrenal glands, which means wearing down your energy, and your ability to adapt to stress.
Dr. Isabel Wentz, Pharm D, says that, “Lack of sleep is a huge stressor on the body and is the quickest way to adrenal dysfunction which can initiate — and perpetuate — autoimmune thyroid disease” [source]
- Brain function– chronic sleep deprivation basically causes brain damage. I’m sure you’ve noticed that it’s much harder to focus and perform mental tasks, when you’re running on little sleep.
- Healthy Weight/Bodyfat Percentage– there is a definite link to sleep deprivation and our weight. We need to consider the mental/emotional aspect- we tend to have more discipline, motivation, and make better food choices when we have proper sleep. There’s also the physical aspect- sleep deprivation messes with our “hunger” hormones, and metabolism. Also, sleep deprivation reduces our ability to exercise (and recover from it) efficiently. The benefits of exercise go beyond our body composition: the right kinds of physical activity can build bone density, increase lean muscle mass, improve brain function, increase our body’s production of HGH (human growth hormone), and even help us sleep deeper. HGH is responsible for cell growth and regeneration. Which means maintaining muscle mass and bone density. It’s sometimes called the “anti-aging” hormone. Your body produces HGH, especially while you’re sleeping, and one study shows that a lack of deeper sleep means less production of this hormone.
- Cortisol- this is known as the “stress”, or “death”, hormone. Sleep deprivation causes an increase in cortisol, and can lead to chronically elevated levels of this hormone. Now, some level of cortisol is actually necessary for us to function. Increasing levels of cortisol are what wakes us up in the morning, and gives us energy for our day. Just this one thing alone can affect all of the above areas.
Elevated Cortisol Levels Can Lead to:
- Weight gain/hard to lose fat
- Insulin resistance
- Feeling stressed and anxious
- Poor digestion
- Weakened immune system
- Imbalanced hormones
“the effects of sleep will affect almost all body systems and tissues…you see very meaningful, consistent clinical data showing cardiovascular risk, metabolic risk, premature aging and cancers, problems with the brain, so it’s almost hard to find some tissues or systems that aren’t really affected with chronic sleep loss…” -researcher Dan Pardi [source]
All of the systems in our body are designed to work together. The way God created the human body is actually pretty amazing! And sleep is such an important part of taking care of the body we’ve been gifted. When we sleep, all of the tissues in our body are being restored and repaired. Our brain needs it. Our skin needs it. Our muscles and bones need it. Our digestive system needs it.
You can probably attest to how sleep affects you physically, emotionally, and mentally. And when one are is affected, it crosses into other areas.
But we also know how hard it is to consistently get good sleep. Believe me, I’ve had my share of late nights and an irregular sleep schedule.
Why is it so hard for us to just go to bed?
Getting Good Sleep
I believe that in our need-to-be-busy, efficiency-driven society, we have trouble allowing ourselves the time we need to really sleep well. This is something that I struggle with sometimes. And also (this is with self-care in general) oftentimes we don’t prioritize it, because we feel it’s selfish, or that we don’t deserve it. Or, we don’t realize that stewarding our own health allows us to better serve those around us.
We also need to get past the myth that we “don’t have time”. I would argue that better sleep improves your focus, productivity, and overall quality of life so much…it will make up for any extra time you “waste” in bed.
On the practical side, here are a few tips for getting better sleep…
First of all, it’s not just QUANTITY of sleep, but QUALITY of sleep as well. There are actually 3 aspects to getting good sleep:
- The duration (quantity)
- The depth (quality)
- The timing (your sleep schedule)
All three of these factor into how rested and energized you feel after a night’s sleep.
As I mentioned before, I’m working really hard to prioritize my own sleep. Below are the most cited strategies for better sleep, which I have found to be helpful in getting enough sleep, and feeling rested from it. I know it can seem overwhelming to jump in and try a whole list of new habits at once. But I encourage you to start small with just one of two.
- I think that if you could only do one thing to move toward better sleep, it should be getting in bed and waking up at approximately the same time each day (allowing ample time for sleeping in between goes without saying). This will help regulate your circadian rhythm (sleep/wake cycle), leading to deeper sleep. Not to mention that this structure can help your focus and productivity for the entire day.
- Help your body and brain wind down before bedtime. This includes NOT engaging in something that’s stressful to your body (like working out) or your mind (balancing the budget, anyone?). You can also be proactive in relaxing: take a hot bath, read, stretch, etc.
- Turn off the electronics! The spectrum of blue light emitted by these devices stimulates your brain and suppresses melatonin (hormone produced by our body, which promotes sleep). Besides, if we’re honest, most of the activities we engage in on these devices, either stress us out, or over-stimulate our brain. Have you ever found that scrolling through social media, or trying to place an Amazon order right before bed, helps your brain really wind down? I challenge you to replace all electronic devices in the bedroom with a good book, stretching, etc. Do this for a whole week, and see the difference it makes!
- Sleep in a cool, dark room. Your body temperature drops as you enter the deeper stages of sleep, so it makes sense to sleep somewhere cool. The optimal temperature that I keep hearing, is 67 degrees F. And of course, sleeping in the dark goes without saying…even a small nightlight can affect the depth of your sleep.
- Magnesium– this helps you relax. I know a lot of people who swear by this supplement. Personally, I enjoy making magnesium oil, and applying it topically.
- This can, surprisingly, be an aid to better sleep: eat a serving of healthy carbohydrates (ex. sweet potatoes, buckwheat, fruit, root vegetables, etc.). with dinner. I know it goes contrary to everything you’ve probably heard about not eating carbs in the evening for optimal fat loss/weight maintenance. But there has been research that shows a serving of carbs with dinner can help you sleep better. And it won’t “pack on the pounds”. 🙂
If you’re into challenges, or could use some accountability, I recommend The Paleo Mom’s “Go To Bed” Challenge. Don’t you just love the title? Sometimes its way simpler than we think…just go to bed. 🙂
Would you say that you suffer from chronic sleep deprivation? What steps do you need to take (or already take) to get better sleep? I’d love to hear from you!
- http://www.naturalmedicinejournal.com/journal/2010-06/role-cortisol-sleep [also explains our sleep cycles]
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20054188/ [Influence of partial sleep deprivation on energy balance and insulin sensitivity]