I’m known for making down-to-earth paleo recipes but all the changes in my diet meant nothing when I wasn’t getting enough sleep.
Seriously, I was in the best shape I’ve been in years and the minute my sleep went off the rails, I was back in a depressive fog, even at one point so low that I considered suicide.
I remember looking at my son’s face and thinking. No. I will fight for this life. I will do exactly what I did when I was told I was pre-diabetic. I would take control of my health and read every resource, every study and watch every expert to fix my sleep.
It wasn’t easy weeding through fact and fiction and many nights I was up staring at the ceiling, praying sleep would come over me. It was when I was researching that I was shocked to learn what happens to your body when you don’t get it enough sleep. Sleep deprivation is scary and you can actually die from lack of sleep.
Why Sleep Is Important:
- Poor sleep can lead to gain weight. Lack of sleep is linked to increased hunger and appetite due to the fact that appetite hormones, ghrelin and leptin, are regulated while you are asleep. In addition, lack of sleep not only causes you to have an increased appetite, but it also causes you to crave high-carb, high-fat foods. Furthermore, people who suffer from sleep disorders and sleep deprivation tend to have higher BMIs than those who do not. Therefore, if you are trying to lose weight, how much sleep you get each night is just as important as what you eat and how much you exercise (SOURCE)
- Poor sleep can lead to serious health problems. Sleep deprivation and chronic sleep disorders put you at a higher risk for:
- Heart attack
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Diabetes and prediabetes
- Irregular heartbeat
In fact, sleeping less than 7 hours a night can put you at an increased risk of heart disease and stroke (SOURCE)
- Poor sleep can lead to depression. Sleep disorders as well as poor sleep habits are strongly linked to depression and even suicide (SOURCE). People who sleep for less than 6 hours a night are more likely to be diagnosed with depression or anxiety. Unfortunately, it becomes a downward spiral because sleep loss aggravates depression, and depression makes it harder to sleep. However, treating sleep disorders and poor sleep habits can help to diminish the signs of depression and vice versa. (SOURCE)
- Poor sleep can lead to inflammation and a weakened immune system. Poor sleep is strongly linked to inflammation in the body, especially Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBS). Furthermore, poor sleep actually increases the likelihood of an IBS recurrence. (SOURCE) Sleep also affects a person’s immune system as well. People who sleep less than 8 hours a night are more likely to suffer from colds than those who sleep 8 or more hours a night. (SOURCE)
- Poor sleep can lead to impaired brain function. Sleep is critical for optimal brain function. Poor sleep impairs your abilities to concentration, reason, pay attention, be alert, and problem solve. (SOURCE) In fact, poor sleep can negatively affect brain function to a similar degree that being intoxication does! Basically, when you don’t get enough sleep, your brain functions as if you are drunk. (SOURCE)
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After living through my own personal sleep nightmare, I know that reclaiming good sleep is possible and here are some easy, practical tips.
12 Tips To Help You Sleep Better:
- Sleep in a pitch-black room. Even the slightest bit of light can disrupt your sleep. To keep this from happening, block or remove all light sources from your bedroom. This means purchasing black-out blinds for the windows and covering LEDs with electrical tape. If you have a digital alarm clock, turn it to face down or away from your bed in order for the light not to be visible. If you cannot block all sources of light in your bedroom, a comfortable eye-mask could do the trick.
- Power down two hours before bed. Artificial bright lights and blue light (emitted from electronic devices such as computers and smartphones) keep your brain alert because it tricks your brain into thinking that it’s still daytime.
- Keep your bedroom cool. Being too hot or too cold can greatly impact your sleep. Typically, between 68 degrees F and 70 degrees F seems to be a comfortable temperature range for most people
- Be consistent with your sleep. This means to go to bed and to wake up at the same times every day – even on the weekends. People with irregular sleep patterns often suffer from poor sleep. This is because going to bed and waking up at different times alters a person’s circadian rhythm cycle, which is the body’s mechanism for aligning itself to day and night and regulating sleep.
- Go to bed before 11PM. Your body produces more cortisol after 11PM in order to keep you awake. If possible, always go to bed before 11PM to eliminate the cortisol surge since high cortisol levels result in insomnia and overall poor sleep patterns.
- Stop drinking coffee by 2pm everyday. Obviously, sleep and coffee don’t go hand-in-hand. Therefore, you should not drink coffee and other forms of caffeine after 2pm or at least 8 hours before you go to bed. Any coffee that you drink later than that should always be decaffeinated.
- Relax. Make relaxation part of your night time routine. You can try meditation, prayer, breathing exercises, reading, taking a hot bath, coloring adult coloring books, or anything else that helps to quiet your mind and put you in a relaxed state before going to bed.
- Go outside in the morning. Spending at least 15 minutes outside every morning in natural sunlight will help trigger your brain to wake up and to be alert throughout the day.
- Put your Phone on airplane mode before you go to bed or preferably earlier when you are powering down for the night. Obviously, message alerts and calls will interrupt your sleep. However, another important reason is that cell phones emit electromagnetic radiation, which disrupts sleep cycles as well as being dangerous to your health. If you must have your cell phone turned, place it several feet from your bed and never sleep with your it on your nightstand unless it’s set to airplane mode.
- Exercise. Regular exercise is one of the best ways to promote sleep and overall good health. However, vigorous exercise shouldn’t be performed for at least 2 hours before bed since it gets your adrenaline pumping and makes it harder to fall asleep. If you must exercise close to bedtime, gentle yoga is a better choice since it will calm you and put you in a relaxed state before bed.
- Make sure that your mattress and pillows are comfortable. I know that this one seems obvious, but sometimes we get so accustomed to our mattress and pillow that we don’t notice when they are uncomfortable. Furthermore, it is recommended that you replace your mattress every 5 to 8 years and pillows every 12 to 18 months. Also, make sure to purchase a pillow that supports your primary sleep position. If you sleep on your stomach, you should use a thin, flat pillow. If you sleep on your side, you need a thick, firm pillow to support your head and neck.
- BONUS TIP: Get tested for sleep apnea and other sleep disorders. Sometimes being unable to sleep might be the sign of a serious condition. Sleep apnea is a condition that causes people to stop breathing for short periods of time when they sleep and can occur hundreds of times a night. Losing weight and avoiding alcohol might help, but you should consult a doctor or a sleep specialist if the problem is severe.