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Don't Let Insomnia Steal Your Health

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For something we spend half our lifetime doing, sleep deprivation is still considered a chronic condition most people don’t recognize. When your circadian rhythms are disrupted, your body produces less melatonin (a hormone and antioxidant) and has less ability to fight cancer.

Melatonin helps suppress free radicals that can lead to cancer. This is why tumors grow faster when you sleep poorly.

Among some of the consequences of too little sleep are:

  • High blood sugar levels and an increased risk of diabetes
  • Accelerated aging
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Depression
  • Increased risk of cancer

And according to a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), lack of sleep can further exacerbate other serious and chronic diseases, such as:

  • Parkinson disease (PD)
  • Alzheimer's disease (AD)
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Gastrointestinal tract disorders
  • Kidney disease
  • Behavioral problems in children

Our body does most of its repairs when we sleep. And not getting enough of it can impair your immune system, leaving you less able to fight off diseases of ALL kinds.

ARE YOU GETTING ENOUGH SLEEP?

If you feel well-rested and waking up in the morning is not a problem, you're probably doing okay in the sleep department.

But if you're feeling fatigued, nodding off or yawning throughout the day, and just want to go back to bed when your alarm clock goes off in the morning, your sleep schedule may need some tweaking.

In general, we need between 6 and 8 hours of sleep every night. But, there are lots of exceptions. Some people feel fine on as little as 5 hours a night, while others need as much as 9 or 10 in order to feel their best.

Your sleep needs can take a radical shift depending on your situation. For example, most people sleep more when feeling ill, or during emotionally stressful times. Pregnant women also typically need more sleep during their first three months and after giving birth.

So be sensitive and listen to your body, and respond accordingly. And don't think you're going to meet all of your sleep needs by sleeping in for one morning on the weekend.

Chronic lack of sleep has a snowball effect when it comes to disrupting your health.

You can’t skimp on sleep on weekdays, thinking you'll "catch up" over the weekend. What's needed is consistency, and when it comes to sleep, routine is the word.

CREATE A HEALTHY SLEEP ROUTINE

Not everyone needs the same amount of sleep, but with a little trial and error you can find your perfect bed time and get the right amount of rest.

First, set a bedtime schedule for yourself, and avoid watching TV or using electronics for about an hour before going to bed. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 95 percent of people are staring at screens—and two-thirds don't get enough sleep during the week.

Eliminate screen time before bed. Bright screens and ongoing brain activity make it harder for you to "shut down" and fall asleep.

Try spending some wind-down time doing something that soothes and relaxes your mind. You may want to spend time journaling, meditating, sipping herbal tea, washing your face, or reading a calming or spiritual book.

Also, try getting to bed as early as possible. Did you know your adrenal glands do a majority of their recharging and recovering during the hours of 11 pm and 1 am? So try to be asleep during those hours.

  • To help you find that perfect bed time, count back 7.5 hours from your typical wake time (the average person has 5 sleep cycles that last 90 minutes long, so that's why we should start with 7.5 hours).
  • And if you wake up within 10 minutes before your morning alarm after three days, that's your target bedtime.

From there, make sure your bedroom is ideally suited for sleep, as this can also go a long way to ensure restful and uninterrupted sleep.

Create a room that’s ideal for sleeping. Often, this means cool, dark and quiet. Use blackout shades or drapes to cover your windows. Even the tiniest bit of light in your room can disrupt your internal clock and your pineal gland's production of melatonin and serotonin. Even a faint glow from your clock radio could be hindering a good night’s sleep. 

Also, you may have considered this, but closing your bedroom door and getting rid of night lights help maintain your melatonin levels.

So if you need to use lights, for instance when going to the bathroom, use “low blue” light bulbs in your bedroom and bathroom. These emit an amber glow that will not suppress your melatonin levels.

Lower your body temperature. Ever notice how much easier it is to sleep when it’s cool? That’s because your body temperature naturally goes down at night when it’s time to sleep. (This occurs right about 4 hours after you fall asleep).

If opening your window is not an option then keep the temperature in your bedroom at or below 70 degrees F (21 degrees Celsius).

Many people keep their homes and particularly their upstairs bedrooms too warm. And studies show the best sleeping temperature is a cool 60 to 68 degrees F (15.5 to 20 C). So keeping your room cooler or hotter can lead to restless sleep.

Try out these tweaks to your schedule to help you get some quality sleep and make waking up easier.

Got any sleep aids we didn't mention here? Share them with us in the comments!


References:

  1. Sleep tips: 7 steps to better sleep, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/sleep/HQ01387.
  2. A Third of Americans Don't Sleep 7 Hours, http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archiv...
  3. What is Insomnia? What Causes Insomnia? http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/9155.php
  4. Milner CE, et al. Benefits of napping in healthy adults: Impact of nap length, time of day, age, and experience with napping. Journal of Sleep Research. 2009;18:272.
  5. Dhand R, et al. Good sleep, bad sleep! The role of daytime naps in healthy adults. Current Opinion in Pulmonary Medicine. 2006;12:379.
  6. Gooley JJ, et al. Exposure to room light before bedtime suppresses melatonin onset and shortens melatonin duration in humans. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. 2011;96:E463.
  7. Suganuma N, et al. Using electronic media before sleep can curtail sleep time and result in self-perceived insufficient sleep. Sleep and Biological Rhythms. 2007;5:204.
  8. Insomnia and sleep deprivation: Health effects and treatment. In: Karren KJ, et al. Mind Body Health: The Effects of Attitudes, Emotions and Relationships. 4th ed. San Francisco, Calif.: Pearson Education, Inc.; 2010:181.
  9. Gellis LA, et al. Sleep hygiene practices of good and poor sleepers in the United States: An Internet-based study. Behavior Therapy. 2009;40:1.
  10. Rosenthal TC, et al. Fatigue: An overview. American Family Physician. 2008;78:1173.

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