Phrases like “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” and “you snooze, you lose,” and very much a part of every day conversation. In today’s modern world, life is lived at such a frenetic pace, that often sleep and even rest are put to the very bottom of our list of priorities. Surviving on little or no sleep has become a status symbol. We almost compete with each other to see who can get by on the least amount of hours in bed, or who can pull the most all nighters. We one up each other about how busy and exhausted we are. It’s insane!
Up until 100 years ago, we slept and woke in rhythm with the sun. Before electricity became cheap and readily available, it was just far too expensive to keep our homes lit at night, so when the sun went down, so did we! Studies have shown that even in this short time span, the average night’s sleep has decreased by an incredible 20%. Our evolution has no chance of keeping up with such rapid change in our behaviour around sleep.
Adequate sleep is fundamentally important for every function in the human body. I cannot emphasise this enough. Lack of sleep has been linked to increased risk of almost every disease you can think of, from diabetes to cancer to heart disease. It has even been linked to obesity. The funny thing about sleep deprivation, is that we all think it doesn’t happen to us. Even as you read this, some of you may be thinking, “yeah I get what she’s saying, but I’m grand!” None of us realise how much not sleeping enough is effecting us, until we do get enough sleep and see how different we feel.
IPad Insomnia: This is a well researched phenomenon. Most of us spend a staggering number of hours each day sitting in front of screens. At work we are in front of computers, at home it’s laptops, tablets and cell phones. The trouble with this, is that all of these devices emit what is known as blue light. In the absence of light, our bodies release a hormone called melatonin. Melatonin signals to the body that it is time to get ready for sleep. Unfortunately, blue light inhibits the production of this hormone, so our body doesn’t get the message to start shutting down.
To combat this, there are a few things we can do;
- Have an hour of no screen time before bed. Read a book or have a chat with your partner. Take a warm bath or even meditate. When you try this, you will notice just how much more sleepy it makes you feel.
- Take all electronics out of your bedroom. All these little lights like the standby light on the TV or the numbers on the digital alarm clock can disrupt sleep. Put the alarm clock in a drawer or even under your bed. This has two purposes, firstly you won’t have the light contamination. But also, if you are having trouble nodding off, or should you wake during the night, you won’t start doing mental arithmetic trying to work out how little sleep you are going to get.
- Make your bedroom as dark as possible. This is a huge thing, especially in summer, or if you live, like I do in a house with a street light outside your window. Invest in a set of blackout curtains. I was skeptical at first, but I promise it’s worth the investment. Studies have shown, that even a tiny pin prick of light on the skin can disrupt melatonin production. With this in mind, it is worth doing all we can to plug those light leaks.
Sleep and weight:
There are two hormones in the body associated with body fat. These are leptin and ghrelin. Like many other pairs of hormones in the body, they act in opposition to each other. Leptin is known the “satiety hormone” and ghrelin is known as the “hunger hormone.”
When we don’t sleep enough, our bodies produce less leptin and more ghrelin, which increases our appetite. Have you ever noticed that when you get a broken night’s sleep, you often feel hungrier the next day? I certainly have. If you aren’t getting enough hours in bed, it will be significantly harder for you to make good food choices.
Most of us will know that not getting enough sleep effects how we think. What we might not know is the extent to which this happens. Research has shown that the longer sleep deprivation goes on for the worse the effect becomes, and more worryingly, the less we notice it. It has been been compared the the effect of alcohol. How after two glasses of wine you know you wouldn’t be able to drive, but after two more you might feel perfectly in control of your faculties.
The effects of sleep debt are so numerous that I could turn this blog post into a book and still not have covered all of them. In fact, there are very few things in your life that can’t be improved by getting better sleep. If you decide to make sleep a priority, you will be more productive, despite being awake for less hours. You will be less likely to get into an accident. You will be in a better mood, and less likely to suffer from stress. It will be easier for you to manage your weight and your health will improve. Your athletic performance will improve. Your relationships will be better, and you will have energy to play with your kids and make love to your partner. YOU WILL FEEL BETTER! Go on, give it a try x