Updated: Sep 24, 2019
Lack of sleep has a profound effect on our endocrine, cardiovascular as well as immune system. The amount of sleep that we need usually falls between7-9 hrs per night for adults. The average sleep duration was 9 hrs per night in 1910. This changed around 1960 as we were adjusting to the modern demands of around the clock production.
Some of the symptoms associated with sleep deprivation are brain fog, fatigue, irritability and moodiness as well as loss of productivity at work.
Sleep is not just a passive event. Metabolically the body is just as active during the night as it is during the day. At night the body is more focused on strengthening the immune system, #detoxification especially of the brain, repair and hormonal balance. One of the main hormonal systems affected by a lack of sleep are the thyroid hormones as well as our Insulin levels. If you don’t get enough slow wave sleep then growth hormone production is diminished as well. One study showed a 70% reduction in natural killer cells after just one night of sleep deprivation. Our natural killer cells are the part of our immune system that helps clean up cancer cells. A lack of sleep can also make us fat and diabetic and depressed.
Ok, so what can we do about it?
1. Increase exposure to natural light: Go outside first thing after waking up and absorb the natural sunlight for 10-20 minutes if possible. We want to make it very obvious to our brain when the day starts and the night begins.
2. Avoid screens at least 1 hr before going to bed and turn off overhead lighting. Avoid LED lights. These lights send a signal to our pineal gland that will decrease melatonin production. Our body reacts to light no less than plants. Instead of screens, try reading a book or meditate.
3. Manage stress. This will look different for everybody but some suggestions are meditation or prayer, reading a book, journaling, connecting with nature etc. If you find that your mind is racing at bedtime with your to-do list, try keeping a journal at your bedside and writing all the things
down that are bothering your brain in the moment. You can also use essential oils such as lavender and diffuse them at bedtime.
4. Exercise for 30-60 minutes most days of the week. Try to time stimulating exercises such as cardiovascular exercises earlier in the day. Regenerative exercises such as yoga and Pilates can be done in the evening. See what works best for you and keep it consistent.
5. Adjust your diet and dinner time. If you eat too close to bedtime it can increase your metabolism which may make it more difficult for you to get to sleep. Ideally there should be 3-4 hrs between your last meal and sleep time. Make sure you eat blood sugar stabilizing foods at dinner such as complex carbs, healthy fats and avoid sugar and simple carbs.
6. Consider moving to an earlier bedtime. We have a natural dip in our diurnal rhythm that is around 8:30pm. If you miss this opportunity to wind down then you will experience a “second wind” that may keep you up until 1am. See if you can find out when this natural dip in your cortisol level occurs for you and take advantage of it. This would be a good time to start your wind down routine, make sure your bedroom temperature is between 60-67F and your essential oils are diffusing so that you can drift to sleep within 30 minutes after that dip.
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Author: Elke Cooke