Sleep Deprivation and How to Keep it From Hurting You

When I was a young mom, I took on a night job restocking new clothing lines at a children’s store. It was only a couple of times a month, but the benefit was so alluring. I felt it was worth giving up a good night’s sleep for a 40% discount (which was a big deal to this frugal mom). 

Sleep Deprivation and how it affects your life

Have you ever justified giving up sleep in exchange for something else? Maybe you feel more productive using those precious hours when the house is quiet to get caught up on those “things” that never seem to get done. Some people feel more energized or creative in the late hours of the night. Can you relate?

For years I was one of those moms who tried to find ways to sleep less to get more done. Stuck thinking I couldn’t really be productive and get things done if I was asleep, right?

WRONG.

It was my husband who first blamed my grumpy attitude on my lack of sleep. You see when I was sacrificing sleep to do something I thought I needed to do; I didn’t see a connection. My stress levels during the day had skyrocketed. My patience level dropped to zero while guilt scored a bonus point all leaving me in a brain fog functioning at partial capacity. 

Did you know more and more people view sleep as a waste of time? This illusion is compromising our health and decision making abilities in some pretty unexpected and devastating ways. Arianna Huffington, the author of The Sleep Revolution, describes this problem as a crisis with more than 40% of the population getting less than the recommended minimum of seven hours of sleep per night.

Sleep is anabolic, meaning it is building and growing. As we sleep, our body is busy rebuilding and growing from all the things we were busy doing during the day. Think of it as a performance enhancer. Sleep impacts nearly every aspect of our health — from our weight, hormones, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer to brain function and Alzheimer’s. 

If you or anyone you love thinks sleep is just a waste of time OR you want to sleep more but can’t seem to do it, The Sleep Revolution is for you. Here are a few things I learned about how to transform your life, one night at a time.

How Important is Sleep to Your Health?

Before making any changes it always helps to have a why. Understanding how a lack of sleep can result in more than just feeling tired might provide the motivation you need to make a change. Did you know medical experts warn about chronic sleep deprivation and how it can have severe effects on your health?

Cancer

While not all cancer risks are linked to a lack of sleep, studies have connected breast and colon cancer to occur more often in people who work night shifts. The exposure to light in the night-time hours reduces the body’s production of melatonin. Melatonin is a brain chemical that helps promote healthy sleep, but it may also reduce tumors and protects against cancer as well. The less you sleep, the less melatonin your body manufactures.

Heart Attacks

Statistically, heart attacks occur more often in the early morning hours. Experts believe this may have something to do with the particular way sleep and waking up affect the cardiovascular system. Studies have shown the health problems often leading to heart disease – obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes. – are exacerbated by the lack of sleep. 

Unhealthy Relationships

When you don’t get enough sleep, you tend to be moody and irritable, which is not healthy for any relationship. Also, sleep problems may lead to partners sleeping separately or create feelings of resentment. This kind of tension may affect the entire family.

Impaired Cognition

An inability to think straight or think constructively is a problem associated with sleep deprivation. You may have trouble remembering things, too, if you are not getting enough sleep.

Injury

From automobile accidents to mishaps on the job, sleep deprivation has been implicated in all sorts of accidental injury situations. The brain does not react as quickly or efficiently when your body is starved for sleep. Clumsiness and mistakes are also symptoms associated with lack of sleep (and accidents).

Signs of Sleep Deprivation

Even if you think you’re getting enough sleep, you may be suffering from sleep deprivation. The symptoms are not necessarily as clear-cut as you might think; in other words, it’s not just feeling sleepy all the time. So how do you know? Here are some ideas.

Regularity

Everyone has trouble sleeping now and then. We all experience the occasional sleepless night and groggy morning. We may even go through a period when we experience these things, such as during life transitions and stresses. But sleep deprivation may be a problem when it is a regular occurrence and appears unrelated to circumstances.

Sleep Deficit

Experts point out “sleep deficit” as a way in which sleep deprivation can impact your life without you realizing it. Sleep deficit is accumulated gradually and is said to result from an hour or more of missed sleep every night for several nights. It becomes a problem when several nights of regular sleep are required to improve normal functioning. 

Mood

Lack of sleep can make anyone irritable. Do you get snappy and feel impatient? Do have little tolerance for your own mistakes or those of people around you? A lack of sleep may be the culprit.

Sleep Deprivation and How to Keep it From Hurting You 3

Weight Gain

Did you know a lack of sleep can increase your appetite and lead to weight gain? Perhaps our body’s need for energy when it’s sleep-deprived is what leads to our cravings for sweets, carbs, or just food in general. Increased appetite may also be the result of hormones imbalances related to sleep.

Even without a marked increase in appetite, research has shown the sleep deprivation can result in weight gain. I put this one to the test and watched my weight go down when I got a full eight hours the night before. 

Mistakes

Do you find yourself regularly making silly mistakes? Maybe you drop things, forget dates on the calendar, or mess up your schedule. Chances are it’s your sleepy brain at work. Studies show those who don’t get enough sleep have a hard time performing routine tasks that aren’t a problem when they are getting enough sleep.

Depression and Anxiety

As with other mental disorders, sleep deprivation may not be a cause of depression, but rather a symptom. However, some sources do say depression and anxiety can result from a lack of sleep if you are feeling depressed or anxious and are having a hard time determining why you might take a look at your sleep habits.

Tips on Getting Enough Sleep

We all have our justifications and reasons for not getting enough sleep. It’s easy to blame your schedule as the cause for not getting enough sleep. It seems like by the time you get a free moment its bedtime. Naturally, you’d want some downtime to unwind and relax, but before you know it, it’s after midnight, and the cycle continues. 

Maybe you have trouble getting or staying asleep because of a spouse who snores, or do you have a sleep disorder like insomnia, sleep apnea, or narcolepsy. Whatever the reason, it’s essential to make time and create the right environment for getting enough sleep. Here are some tips on how to make it happen.

How Much is Enough?

Newborns (0-3 months):14-17 hours
Infants (4-11 months):12-15 hours
Toddlers (1-2 years):11-14 hours
Preschoolers (3-5):10-13 hours
School-age children (6-13)9-11 hours
Teenagers (14-17):8-10 hours
Young Adults (18-25):7-9 hours
Adults (26-64):7-9 hours
Older Adults (65+):7-8 hours

Average sleep needs by age according to the National Sleep Foundation

Set a Bedtime

Remember how your parents pestered you about bedtime? They had a point. Instead of looking at ways to push bedtime later each night, knowing you “really should” get to bed earlier, set a bedtime and stick with it. Most experts agree you should go to sleep before midnight, preferably before 11 pm.

If this isn’t possible, be realistic and set a maintainable bedtime, even if it’s midnight. Then be sure you get at least 7 hours of sleep.

Another note about bedtime. Going to bed too early can also cause problems. If you find yourself fading to sleep at 7 or 8 pm, you may wake up in the wee hours after only sleeping 5 or 6 hours, and then not be able to get back to sleep. If you find this is a problem you may need to bump your bedtime a bit.  

Your Bedroom

Your bedroom may not be conducive to sleep. Here are some things to look for and adjust in your bedroom to make it more sleep-promoting.

Keep it Dark and Cool. This is the rule for a sleepy bedroom. Darkness is fundamental for a proper night’s sleep – lights from neighbors’ homes, screens (including the TV, computer, and phone screens), and lamps can disturb your sleep patterns.

Cooler temperatures are said to promote sleep, and I would have to agree. ‌ ‌Higher body temperature tends to stimulate the body and prevent sleep, while cooler ones promote a comfortable night’s sleep.

Your bed is for sleeping. Sitting on my laptop to pay bills, write a chapter, or return emails inadvertently trained my brain to be stimulated while in bed rather than preparing for sleep. I also found it more challenging to walk away from what I might be thinking about because I’m literally taking those thoughts to bed with me! I’ve learned to keep my work away from my bed to allow my mind to separate sleep from work.

Keep noise to a minimum. If sounds keep you awake, try using a fan or white noise machine to drown out anything keeping you from sleep.  

Make Lists

Do you ever wake up worrying about something? Is it hard to turn off your brain when you get to bed? Making a list has helped me out. Before turning out the lights, I do a brain dump of all the things floating through my head in my planner. It helps relax my mind knowing I won’t forget about them the next day. If I wake up and get new ideas popping into my mind, I have a notepad on my nightstand to quickly jot down the thought so I can get back to sleep. 

Exercise 

Exercise is one of the best ways to get your body into balance and help you relax at night. We sleep better when we make time for regular physical exercise. I’ve found it much easier to fall and stay asleep on days when I’ve biked, walked, or practiced yoga. I’m able to unwind to fall asleep faster and less likely to wake up after a few hours of sleep. The Mayo Clinic suggests creating a regular exercise habit of 20-30 minutes, five days a week for optimal results. 

Food and Your Sleep

We hear about how food affects the way our body functions, but have you ever considered how it alters our sleep? It’s not so much about eating our way to sleeping better but avoiding foods labeled as a hindrance instead of a help. 

 Eat right, sleep tight. Eat wrong, up all night long.”

-Arianna Huffington

Caffeine and sugar are the obvious high contenders on the list. But did you know avoiding fatty or spicy foods as well as late-night meals can also improve your sleep? 

It takes 2-3 hours to digest a meal, and so it is wise to pay attention to when we eat dinner. Caffeine can affect our body for more than six hours after we drink it. And fatty foods and spicy dishes can contribute to indigestion, acid reflux, and sleep apnea. A word to the wise — before you eat think about what you’re putting into your body and how it might affect your sleep. 

Putting Technology Where it Belongs

Because of the addictive nature of being digitally connected, if it is sitting on your nightstand, it’s more likely you’ll pick it up. The blue light special is not a great deal you find at Kmart anymore. It’s the light we are basking in as we look at our electronic screens. This “special” light disrupts our melatonin levels and our body’s circadian rhythm. Technology is a powerful gift and one we need to use wisely when it comes to our sleep.

Sleep Disorders

Is it big a deal when you can’t get to sleep? Experts say that if it’s a chronic problem, then yes – it can be a big deal. Sleep disorders are a real thing. 

Sometimes you can improve many sleeping problems on your own, but if you suspect your issues go beyond the occasional restless night, you might have a disorder. Maybe you’ve already been diagnosed with sleep apnea, insomnia, restless leg syndrome, or narcolepsy. In any case, working together with your doctor or sleep specialist helps to identify any underlying cause and find ways to improve your sleep and quality of life.  

Takeaways: Creating a Sleep Routine

Not all routines are created equally, and we are all unique in what works for us. A routine helps train our body for what we want it to do, and a sleep routine is one more step to help get a good night’s sleep.

A healthy routine might include:

  • wearing comfortable jammies
  • washing your face, brushing your teeth and taking out your contacts
  • doing a brain dump to clear your thoughts
  • reading to relax and unwind
  • meditation and prayer
  • deep breathing

When we feel like there isn’t enough time in the day for us to get everything done, when we wish for more time, we don’t actually need more time. We need more stillness.”

Christine Carter

I think the key is to not get caught up in the busyness of your day that you miss what is working, what patterns make a difference, and what adjustments help. Take the time to find more stillness in your life, it might just help you find the sleep you’ve been missing.

What have you learned about sleep to change the way you think making it a priority?

Sleep deprivation and how it affects your life

More Ideas about Sleep

Resources:
Huffington, Arianna. The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life One Night at a Time. Thorndike Press: New York (2016).

“Sleep Needs.” Melinda Smith, M.A., Lawrence Robinson, and Robert Segal, M.A. (June 2019) HealthGuide.org

“Which is better — 30 minutes of aerobic exercise every day or one hour of aerobic exercise three times a week?” Dr. Edward Laskowski, The Mayo Clinic.

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