By Ekaterina Morrissey
“I am cranky in the morning” is what 80% of the people I know say. Being moody and easily irritated is just an ‘overture’ to what being sleep deprived digs underground. People who regularly are not getting enough quality sleep have a neurobehavioral performance that impairs to the same degree as a blood alcohol concentration of .04 to .05, according to research.
Poor quality sleep has devastating consequences on a person’s mind, body and spirit. It has been revealed through scientific research that individuals who do not get enough sleep are at a higher risk for disease and injury.
There are more than 65% of Americans that are obese (or dangerously overweight). Our level of physical activity has dropped significantly, but our caloric consumption has not. Add to this, the fact that we, as a society, are sleeping less than our ancestors.
The obesity rate in the United States has more than doubled in the last 25 years, coinciding with a rise in sleep disorders. Poor sleep habits play a significant role in weight gain, and overweight individuals rarely get quality sleep – it is a vicious cycle.
Lack of sleep, inconsistent sleep habits, and disrupted sleep cycles play havoc on our overall mental and physical health.
• Heart Attack. If you only get five, or less, hours a sleep a night, the chances of you having a heart attack double. Getting quality sleep on a regular basis is an important step to keeping your heart healthy. Both women and men are at risk for a heart attack if they continuously get poor quality sleep.
• High blood pressure. One poor night’s sleep may not be too damaging to your mind and body, but over time, sleep deprivation can inhibit your stress hormones, resulting in high blood pressure (also known as: “the silent killer”).
• Weight gain. Research studies have linked obesity with poor sleep habits, and the results show that individuals who got less than six hours of quality sleep on a regular basis were more than 30% more likely to carry around extra weight, than individuals that slept eight hours a night, on average. The results of the studies have revealed that lack of sleep triggers the production of ghrelin (the hormone known to stimulate hunger), and also the leptin (which is the hormone that tells the brain that your appetite is satiated). In addition to stimulating appetite, when your mind and body are not sufficiently rested, you are more likely to crave foods that are high in fat and carbohydrates.
• Energy levels. Unlike other conditions that may take a while to manifest, a dip in energy (due to lack of sleep) is immediate. Just one hour of sleep less than normal can be a major mental and physical energy drain. Aim for eight hours of sleep per night, to conserve energy and feel refreshed to face a new day.
• Mood fluctuation. When person loses much needed sleep, they have a tendency to become irritated, irrational, restless, and begin to show signs of depression. Results from studies showed those individuals that were diagnosed with clinical depression also slept fewer than six hours per night. Insomnia, usually, is the first sign of clinical depression. Feelings of depression can make it difficult for some people to fall asleep, and insomnia can aggravate/manifest symptoms of depression. The good news is that treating insomnia may help reverse feelings of apathy, and seeking professional assistance for depression can help you get a better night’s rest.
• Diabetes occurs when the body is unable to produce insulin, or when insulin is not being properly used. When functioning properly, insulin is used to help a person’s body turn glucose (sugar) into energy. When an individual becomes insulin resistant, the cells are unable to use the hormones in an efficient manner, which leads to high blood sugar. Scientific research has found that individual that do not get enough quality sleep are more prone to be insulin resistant, which leads to obesity. Obesity is strongly linked to diabetes. Poor sleep habits may increase a person’s risk of getting Type 2 diabetes, but it may also make a current condition worse.
• Relationship problems. Lack of sleep can have a negative effect on a relationship. For instance, sleep deprivation may have a great influence on how people interact with each other. When couples are tired, they have less patience with each other. They become selfish, and have less of a desire to discuss an issue without become “cranky”. In addition to irritability, it is believed that individuals who suffer with chronic insomnia are more likely to be infertile, and this can also lead to problems in the relationship.
• Intimacy/sex problems. When sleep deprived women and men where studied by sleep specialists, it was found that they had a lower sex drive, and they were not as interested in intimacy, as their well-rested counterparts. Although tiredness, increased irritability, and lack of energy are some of the top reasons for a low libido associated with lack of sleep – sleep apnea may be another reason. Men with sleep apnea, a respiratory issue that disrupts quality sleep, have been known to have lower than normal testosterone levels.
• Stress levels. It should come as no surprise that stress, feelings of anxiety, and sleep problems are linked together, in a vicious cycle. For example, if a person is under excessive stress, then they may have trouble sleeping. Lack of sleep, in combination with stress, can induce feelings of anxiety, which in turn will increase a person’s stress level. One of the most effective ways to break this cycle is to relax your body and mind.
• Focus and alertness. Extensive studies have shown that lack of proper sleep limits brain activity, and its ability to function properly. Areas especially affected are the thalamus (the part of the brain responsible for remaining alert and attentive) and the prefrontal cortex (which is also responsible for alertness, but also for the thinking and processing of complex information). Overall, lack of sleep results in poor performance quality at work. In fact, a researcher at Harvard Medical School (Sleep Medicine Division) named Charles Czeisler, has found that if hospital doctors worked less consecutive hours, that medical errors can be reduced by almost 40%. Also, other jobs can become dangerous, if an employee is sleep deprived, as their response time is not as quick, they can make poor decisions and become forgetful. Almost 60% of Americans admit that they feel drowsy during the day, due to lack of sleep. As you can see, it is in everyone’s best interest to get a good night’s sleep.
Signs of sleep deprivation may include: physical fatigue, irritability, slurred speech, blurred vision, unable to concentrate, inability to remember clearly, and in extreme cases, hallucinations are possible.
In years past, withholding sleep has been an effective torture technique, for interrogating spies and enemies of the state. For this reason alone, you can decide that sleep serves an essential purpose in our lives and overall heath.
Steps To Improve the Quality of Your Sleep Include:
1. Losing weight, if you are overweight or obese, or simply think you’ll benefit to shed those extra 5 lbs you added this year.
2. Change of diet, especially what you eat after 3 p.m.
3. Addressing issues such as snoring, allergies and urinating often.
4. Natural remedies to aid sleep include: Mint and/or Valerian teas 1 hour before bed, Melatonin supplement.
5. Avoid watching TV and computer time at least one hour prior to bed.
6. Exercise during the day vice at night!
7. Take 7-10 deep breaths while in bed to meditate and relax your mind.
8. Cover your alarm clock with a cloth so you don’t see the time – you’ll hear it in the am, anyway, what’s the point to look at it blink?!?
9. Always have a boring book on your night stand – it is the best sleeping pill! I am still on page 12 of mine for a year now.
Aim for at least 8 hours of sleep per night. Sweet Dream…ZZZzzz.