Another bad night of sleep.
You go through your day in a fatigued, zombie-like state unable to function optimally. You’re tired, irritated and unable to completely focus. You long for your bed and your memory misfires. Maybe you’re cranky and unpleasant with those you work with or love. You nod off at your desk after lunch or maybe even during a presentation at work or school. You crave sugar, fill your system with caffeine in the form of coffee or soda so you can keep moving and come home only to do it all over again the next day.
If so, you’re not alone. Sleep disturbance, which leads to a lack of sleep, is a public health epidemic. In fact, almost 80% of Americans say they’d feel better and more prepared for the day with an extra hour of sleep . The scenario hasn’t gotten better: thanks to the rise of technology and our 24-hour society, sleep duration appears to have decreased by 1.5 to 2 hours during the second half of the 20th century .
The results are disastrous for your health, longevity and your relationships. Countless studies have shown that insufficient and/or low quality sleep directly affects how well you look, feel and relate to others .
Sleep Impacts Multiple Systems
In terms of your health, the quality and duration of your sleep has an enormous impact on the following:
Brain Processing and Memory Formation
Been forgetful lately? It could be due to your lack of sleep. Researchers have always known that sleep promoted brain processing and memory formation, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that they watched, with advanced microscopy, new neural connections actually form in brains during sleep .
This means you actually need sleep to allow your brain to process the information it has experienced throughout your day. Those new neural connections your brain makes as you sleep deeply form the actual memories you will have of your day. This, in turn, helps you learn more quickly, perform tasks and recall information more easily and not forget anything important.
Sleep has a major impact on your hormones – the chemical messengers that are created in your endocrine system. Hormones control nearly everything in your body, from hunger to reproduction to emotions. As you can imagine, proper hormone regulation significantly influences your health.
Sleep is when your body regulates, processes and controls secretion of your hormones. Throw your sleep out of whack, your hormones follow quickly behind. Sleep impacts all of your hormones, but here are few examples:
Cortisol, nicknamed the stress hormone, is produced by your adrenal glands and controls bodily functions like blood sugar regulation, immune system suppression, food metabolism and bone formation. You guessed it: sleep has a huge impact on cortisol regulation. Studies have shown that low quality sleep spikes your cortisol levels which leads to the development of insulin resistance, which is the primary risk factor for diabetes and obesity . In other words: Not getting a good night’s rest can make you diabetic.
- Leptin and Ghrelin
Leptin is released by your fat cells and tells your brain when you’re full. Your brain then will suppress or increase your appetite accordingly. Leptin’s cousin, ghrelin, is hormone produced by your gastrointestinal tract and is the “hunger” hormone. Studies show that the less sleep you get, the more your leptin is decreased and the more your ghrelin is increased – causing you to feel hungry and crave food even if your body doesn’t need the energy , . To put it simply: a lack of quality sleep will make you fat.
Recently it’s been discovered that sleep is absolutely vital for your brain’s health. When you’re awake, all the neural activity in your brain that occurs for you to function causes by-products in your brain called metabolites. Think of your neurons as a car and the metabolites the exhaust.
Your neurons fire rapidly while you’re awake and give off toxic metabolites that need to be cleaned up for your brain to continue to function properly the next day. The glymphatic system is the method your brain uses during sleep to remove this toxic waste.
During sleep, your glymphatic system works about ten times faster and your brain cells actually shrink by over half to make the system work at its peak to get your brain ready to take on the next day [8, 9, 10, 11].
If you don’t get enough sleep, you end up with a toxic, dirty brain and this affects how well your brain functions while you’re awake. In fact, it’s during sleep that brain toxins like those that are correlated with Alzheimer’s disease, are cleaned up.
Sleep Fun Fact: Finding it hard to get out of bed in the morning is a real condition called Dysdania. It signals possible nutritional deficiencies or depression. Click to tweet
What Affects Your Sleep?
Now that we've covered how bad sleep disturbance can actually be for our body, I’m sure you want to know what causes the sleep disturbances that lead to low quality sleep and how can you avoid them? Before you reach for that sleeping pill, keep reading.
Lack of Preparation
It should be common sense that what you do during the day is going to have a huge impact on how well you sleep. This is so important though, that it bears repeating. So let this sink in: you need to move your body and get some sun, if possible, every day. Doing these two simple things will give you a great base for a good night’s sleep. Your body is made to move outdoors. Fresh air and exercise are a simple, healthy and cheap prescription for a great, restorative night’s sleep.
Staying cooped up inside is devastating to your ability to sleep well. It’s more difficult in winter, but you can invest in something like a sunlamp and go to an indoor gym. If you can, go for a walk on your lunch break or try something like ice skating or cross country skiing. Finally, do your best to wake up with the sun if your schedule allows it. This will get your body used to a more natural cycle and it’ll know when it’s time to be awake and time to sleep.
The “where” and “how” of your sleeping routine, your sleep environment has a tremendous impact on its quality. To maintain an optimal sleeping environment make sure you:
- Keep your bedroom temperature between 60 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Invest in a programmable thermostat if possible so you don’t have to think about this. The bonus is you’ll save heating costs in the winter time.
- Keep your room pitch black. That means NO light. Invest in some black out curtains or put a towel at the bottom of your door if you have to. Get rid of your alarm clock, night light and anything else that emits ANY kind of light.
- Ditch the electronics. Shut your phone and computer off. Better yet, keep them out of your bedroom entirely.
- Create some ambient noise. This will help to mask outside noises that could interrupt your sleep and provide some comfort and ease your stress as you fall asleep. Fans and air purifiers work great for this.
- Timing. The “when” of your sleep routine, you need to make sure your timing is on for a good night’s sleep, too. To make sure you’re on schedule, try:
- Staying consistent. Develop and maintain a consistent sleep schedule that works for you. The closer you can match the sunrise and sunset, the better. This means doing your best to maintain your schedule even on weekends.
- Create a bedtime routine. Come up with a bedtime routine and stick with it. Listen to some music for half an hour, read, write, brush your hair or do whatever you find relaxing. If you can develop a bedtime habit and be consistent with it, eventually your body will know exactly when it’s time to sleep.
- Don’t stay up past 10:30 PM. If you’re having trouble sticking with a strict and consistent sleep routine, as a general rule, don’t go to bed later than 10:30 PM. The most important sleep you can get is the sleep you get before midnight. Staying up later can throw your entire system out of whack. This means making sure you’ve started your bedtime routine before 9:30 PM, at least.
- Diet. Believe it or not, diet has a tremendous impact on your ability to sleep. In short, clean it up. Avoid refined sugar, grains, processed foods and alcohol if possible. The Paleo diet is a great model to use that many people have had success with to improve their sleep. If you’re having trouble falling asleep, try a small snack like apples and almond butter or plain full fat yogurt.
Dr. Daniel’s Sleep Hacks
Now we know what sleep affects, and what affects sleep. So, let’s summarize everything into some easy to implement sleep hacks you can incorporate throughout your day, starting tomorrow:
First Thing In The Morning
- Get outside as soon as possible to expose yourself to natural light. If you can’t, use a white light emitter or sun lamp.
- Eat a high protein breakfast and supplement with Vitamin D. Check out my own line of Vitamin D3+K2 .
- Consider incorporating some meditation. It’s OK to start small for just a few minutes. Check out headspace app or google guided meditation.
- Take between a 5 and 30 minute walk. Getting some aerobic exercise will help you to sleep later and is a great way to relieve some stress.
- Avoid coffee and any other beverages that contain lots of caffeine. If you need something to sip on, try switching to green tea or water.
- Eat a big dinner that’s protein and fat dominant. Think grassfed steak or burger pattys or a big omelet fried in some grassfed butter. Try to get this down the hatch 3 hours before your normally scheduled bedtime (that means no later than 7:30 PM!).
- Incorporate some starchy carbs. Sweet potatoes, squash, chestnuts and pumpkins are good choices.
- Eat foods rich in glycine. Try beef heart, chicken livers or make an old fashioned bone broth. Glycine is great for promoting sleep.
An Hour Before Lights Out
- Avoid blue light. This means fluorescent and LED lights in your home that come from light bulbs, kitchen appliance clocks, TVs, stereos, your computer and phone; pretty much everything. If you can’t shut it all out, you can try wearing blue light blocking glasses or download a program like lux to block blue light from your computer and phone. Blue light, just like sunlight, disrupts melatonin secretion in your brain and keeps you up much, much later than your body wants to be.
- Avoid strenuous exercise. The last thing your body wants to do after you get your heart pumping is sleep. So schedule your workouts for the morning, if possible.
- Take a hot or cold bath. Immersing your body in hot or cold water can do wonders to lower your heart rate, alleviate stress and promote relaxation so you’ll pass out as soon as you hit the pillow.
Wrapping It Up
We don’t get enough sleep and it’s not a good thing for anyone. In fact, sleeping problems are indicative of a health problem in another area of our lives. This means if you’re not getting good, quality sleep, you’re likely not the healthiest you can be. The upside here is that there are many things in your control that you can do to make sure you’re getting restful, restorative sleep each and every night.
Contact Dr. Daniel today to get more information on how to improve your health in movement, nutrition and brain chemistry so you can sleep well.
Did this information help you in any way in understanding Sleeping Disorder or Sleep Disturbance?
What are the specific remedies you've tried for sleeping problems?
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