Sleep — it’s one of the best things you can do to take care of yourself but it’s also one of the areas that’s most likely to be neglected.
The recommended amount of shut eye is eight hours a night (preferably more!) but lots of us fall far short of this. It’s having a massive impact on almost every aspect of wellbeing, from health to weight. You can live healthily in every other area of your life but unfortunately, it probably won’t do much to counteract the damaging effects of poor sleep habits.
Here’s a look at why getting enough sleep is so crucial for your health and wellbeing, and why diet alone can’t undo the effects of poor sleep.
Sleep Duration Versus Sleep Quality
We’re always being told how many hours we should be sleeping each night. But is it enough even if we can manage to achieve it?
Sleep quality refers to how well we sleep and is completely different from how long we sleep. It’s pretty easy to tell how long you sleep but the quality is a bit harder to determine.
Poor sleep quality means that you’re not sleeping in line with your circadian rhythm or going through all of the important sleep phases (particularly with REM sleep).
Some of the signs that your sleep quality isn’t up to par include:
- Waking up during the night
- Not waking up naturally — your alarm clock abruptly wakes you up most mornings
Sleep and Your Health
What does your body experience when you don’t get enough sleep? Pretty much everything suffers but here are some of the more serious effects that poor sleep patterns can have on your health:
- Lower immunity. If you seem to get every cough and cold going, your sleep habits may be to blame. In one study, researchers deliberately exposed people to the common cold virus to see how likely they were to develop a cold. Participants who had slept less than 7 hours per night had lower immunity and were almost 3 times more likely to be impacted. Even a small sleep debt has been linked to lower immunity.
- Higher risk of heart disease and stroke. Studies have looked at the link between lack of sleep and developing heart disease. It’s a scary connection. Getting less than 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night means a higher chance of developing Coronary Heart Disease or having a stroke — and dying from it.
- Higher risk of diabetes. A sleep debt can pave the way for developing Type 2 diabetes. In this study, just a week of poor sleep reduced insulin sensitivity. It raised concerns about whether consistently sleeping badly might open the door to developing health issues linked to insulin resistance.
- Increased inflammation. Inflammation is now linked to lots of different health problems and can be increased by sleep loss.
Sleep and Cognition
You’ve no doubt heard that eating the right foods can boost your brain health. But it’s not just diet that can impact your memory and concentration.
Sleep is an important factor too, and lack of sleep has been shown to impair mental clarity. In fact, one study suggested that even moderate sleep issues can damage your performance as much as alcohol!
The deeper stages of sleep are particularly vital when it comes to clear thinking, focus, memory and learning. This is when your brain does a lot of its mental ‘sorting,’ such as filtering out information that isn’t really needed right now. It might not sound like a lot but it adds up to better cognition and performance.
Sleep and Weight Gain
If you don’t sleep well, it can be a lot more challenging to maintain a healthy weight. The main problem? It makes your metabolism a little bit crazy and can ruin your good intentions for eating well.
Lack of sleep has a big impact on hormones that are linked to appetite — namely leptin and ghrelin. Leptin helps to keep your appetite in check while ghrelin does the opposite.
Ideally, you want to have more leptin and less ghrelin but not getting enough sleep throws this balance off and effectively switches them around. This means you’re a lot more likely to overeat, even when you’re full. And you’ll find it harder to shift stubborn fat on your stomach, since sleep deprivation encourages fat to build up there.
Improving Your Sleep Quality
Some things you can do to try to get better quality sleep each night include:
- Making your room as dark as possible to support your circadian rhythm. Pitch black is best.
- Setting a bedtime routine that involves going to bed at the same time every night and getting up at a same time each morning.
- Switching off electronic devices at least an hour before bed (even your phone!) to reduce the amount of ‘blue light’ you’re exposed to just before bedtime. ‘Blue light’ makes it harder for your body to produce enough of the sleep hormone, melatonin, to help you sleep well.
If you haven’t considered sleep a key part of your wellness routine, it’s definitely time to change that! How well do you sleep?
Comment below. I’d love to know more about your situation.