The Power of Sleep and the Health Risks of Not Getting Enough
Just like you, we at Living Proof are mammals who need sleep to survive and thrive. Despite this need, there are many of us who struggle to get adequate, healthy sleep on a consistent basis.
While we often only notice the short-term effects of a bad night’s sleep, such as feeling irritable or fatigued, the long-term effects of inadequate sleep can have devastating effects on our health and quality of life.
Despite these enormous risks, many of us still do not sleep as much as we need to. In fact, it is estimated that 50 to 70 million Americans suffer with some type of sleep disorder, which resembles statistics around the world that show there are many millions who wrestle with similar issues.
But, there is some good news. While extended sleep deprivation and poor quality sleep can often inflict life-altering and even permanent damage on the body, many of the factors that lead to poor sleep habits are well within your control.
With that in mind, our team at Living Proof want to help you learn about the consequences of sleep deprivation, the lifestyle practices that contribute to it and, most importantly, the natural, healthy ways to enhance your sleep, and therefore, your life.
The consequences of sleep deprivation or poor quality sleep
While millions around the world suffer from sleep disorders, the vast majority of cases go undiagnosed. Even more troubling, research shows that very few of these sufferers receive any type of treatment.
This lack of awareness and treatment might stem from the fact that many do not realize that certain health issues they are experiencing are a result of or worsened by their chronic lack of quality sleep.
Some of the most noticeable effects of poor sleep are often short-term. These include lapses in judgement, poor memory and low motivation. While these effects might seem commonplace to many of us, they can have disastrous effects including tragic accidents, interpersonal conflict and difficulty completing important tasks.
Long-term effects of sleep deprivation or poor quality sleep can ravage both the mind and body.
Negative effects on the mind include higher rates of depression, anxiety and substance abuse. Studies have also shown that, over time, inadequate sleep has been directly linked to increased behavioral problems and lower self esteem. In the case of people who already battle mental disorders, these effects can greatly reduce quality of life and make the sufferer prone to higher mental instability.
It is hard to overstate how far-ranging the effects of sleep are on the body. Studies detailed by the National Institute of Health show that sleep has substantial effects on the endocrine, cardiovascular, nervous and immune system.
Negative effects on the body include increased risk for obesity, diabetes, heart disease, decreased fertility and a lower life expectancy.
The risks caused by extended, inadequate sleep on the body cannot be overstated in the minds of many scientists. If this were not troubling enough, research shows that poor sleep can increase the likelihoods of heart attacks and stroke, which are two of the top five leading causes of death in the United States.
Lifestyle practices that contribute to poor sleep
Many of us struggle to get the sleep we need because we do not treat it as an important part of our daily routine. Whether it be for work, time with friends or other activities and obligations, many of us sacrifice sleep without thinking about it. Unfortunately, it is this mindset that can make bad sleep habits so hard to break.
In order to develop a stronger sleep routine, we need to identify the bad habits that impair our sleep and replace them with better alternatives.
The first step to embarking on a better sleep schedule is to find a set time to go to sleep and wake up each day. This initial change is critical because it helps your body set an internal clock, which is key to optimizing your sleep. While it can take a few days or weeks to find what times work best for you, this step is critical.
Next, as inconvenient as this might be, you need to stop sleeping in. Yes, we are serious. If you don’t believe us, listen to science that shows sleeping in can leave you with jetlag-like symptoms that make you groggy, irritable and less likely to have a good night’s sleep.
If this sounds scary, do not worry, we have good news too: naps can be a healthy alternative to sleeping in! But, even with naps, there are a few rules you should follow to ensure you can still get a good night’s sleep afterwards.
First, make sure that your nap is less than 30 minutes. This length is ideal because naps that exceed a half hour can confuse your body and your internal clock, which makes it difficult to fall asleep at night. Second, make sure that you do not nap too close to your bedtime. If you nap too late in the evening, this can be an obvious impediment to a good night’s sleep.
Other habits that disrupt sleep include exposure to phone, computer and television screens, consumption of caffeine, nicotine and alcohol and foods that are high in sugar and carbs.
While these habits are often an emotional crutch for people, particularly during times of stress, science shows that they trigger wakefulness and alertness that directly interfere with a good night’s sleep.
Natural ways to improve sleep
While there are many things you must avoid to ensure a good night’s sleep, there are just as many things you can do to improve your sleep. In fact, a proactive mindset can be the best way to begin a new sleep schedule.
One way to naturally improve your sleep is to limit your exposure to light before you go to bed. Production of melatonin, the hormone that helps you sleep, increases dramatically when you sleep in a dark room.
Conversely, to help you wake up at the healthiest time for you, it is best to expose yourself to sunlight after you wake up in the morning. Research shows that this type of exposure can help make waking up easier and faster.
Another way to help your sleep is to exercise. Exercising on a regular basis has been shown to alleviate symptoms of insomnia, making you feel both more alert during the day and tired at night. While it is better to exercise for at least an hour or so a day, the science shows that even ten minutes of exercise can greatly benefit your sleep.
If you find your cluttered mind making it difficult to sleep, or you just want a reliable way to decompress before bed, meditation can be a great way to clear the mind and prepare for a better night’s sleep.
Studies have shown that, when compared to those who do not meditate, meditators fall asleep sooner, stay up longer and wake up feeling more rested.
Finally, an obvious, but often difficult step, toward a better night sleep is creating a bedroom environment that is conducive to a good night’s sleep. While this may be difficult for people who live in larger cities, studies have shown that reduction of light exposure and noise by 50% results in a tangible improvement in sleep quality.
While some sources of light and sound are out of your control, removing things like clocks, artificial sources of light (TV, computer screen etc.) and any noise-producers can greatly benefit your sleep.
Another key aspect of creating a healthy sleep environment is choosing a temperature at which to sleep in. There is no one size fits all approach to choosing a temperature at which to sleep, but some studies do show that temperature can have a greater effect on sleep than even noise reduction, so find a temperature that is comfortable to you throughout the night.
The Power of Sleep
As science becomes more available for public consumption, the power of sleep has been revealed to a greater audience than ever before.
Once thought to be a simple obligation of life, sleep has been shown to be a powerful ally in our pursuit of a healthy, happy and long life.
While the dramatic effects of inadequate sleep can be intimidating, the great thing about improving your sleep is that you can start to do it today. There is no special technique or training required, and as soon you start to sleep better, you will start to feel better too!