What happens when we don't sleep enough? Certainly we do not feel great. Why? Why do we need a certain amount of hours of sleep at night to experience wellness? Because sleep is essential for the body to restore and repair itself. It aids immune system recovery and fighting against infections and has a central role in preserving mental and emotional health. Another vital function is related to learning and memory as sleep plays a critical role in storing and consolidating memories, both intellectual and physical that we experience during the day. This is one of the reasons why babies who are growing and learning need much more sleep than adults which on average need between 7 to 9hrs every night so that all the body’s repair and renewal processes can take place.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen and lack of sleep can have negative consequences on our health.
Sleep loss is associated with an increase in appetite as the activity of leptin, an appetite-suppressing hormone that signals fullness to the brain, is influenced by sleep duration. Leptin levels drastically decrease after sleeping for four or less hours a night. In addition, ghrelin a hormone secreted by the stomach that stimulates appetite, increases in concentration with sleep deprivation.
Increase in appetite creates a rise in cravings for food, especially sugar to generate the energy that wasn’t replenished during the night. This occurs because another hormone that is impaired by poor sleep is growth hormone that aids turning fat into muscle. Increased muscle mass helps burning more calories as energy and improves insulin sensitivity reducing sugar cravings. Lack of sleep can lead to insulin resistance that promotes exhaustion and weight gain.
To improve sleep and keep sugar cravings at bay, make sure to exercise at least 30 minutes every day avoiding strenuous activity before bed. Gentle stretching or yoga are better suited. Also, ensure to eat balanced meals to keep blood sugar levels balanced as inconsistent meals during the day or calorie deprivation can wake you up at night. Try to eat the evening meal 2-3 hours before bed and if you need an evening snack then have one with carbohydrates and protein. (a banana with almonds or nut butter on rice cakes). Remember to reduce alcohol, caffeine and stimulants as they can alter insulin function and impair sleep.
Sleep deprivation can cause a depletion of a neurotransmitter called serotonin. Serotonin is one of the calming hormones and it helps us handling stressful situations. Low availability may contribute to irritability and anxiety. In addition, poor sleep can lead to elevated levels of cortisol, a hormone that can lead to increased stress.
Try to relax before bed by writing down the daily worries to free the mind, taking a bath with magnesium-rich epsom salts, reading a book or listening to music.
Sleep plays a critical role in thinking and learning. Lack of it impairs attention, concentration, reasoning making us more prone to accidents and negatively affecting productivity at work as it influences memory too making us more forgetful.
Try to improve sleep quality by creating a sleep schedule through going to bed at the same time every day and having total darkness, no sounds and the right room temperature (not too hot). Also create a sleep routine to slowly wind down. Avoid bright lights and mental stimulations, stop using phones, laptops and watching TV one to two hours before bed. Read instead, take a bath or try deep breathing and meditation techniques (headspace app).
Sleep deprivation could also cause faster skin ageing as sleep is a time for the body to heal, renew and eliminate toxins from the skin. Poor sleep lowers growth hormone that causes reduced collagen production making fine lines and wrinkles more visible. There is also an increased oxidative stress that can promote poor lymphatic drainage and fluid accumulation which leads to puffy eyes or the appearance of dark circles. Beauty sleep is a reality and a much needed one!
Try the above suggestions to aid sleep and if a little extra help is required, use herbs like chamomile, valerian and skullcap in evening tea or take magnesium for its relaxing effect on the body (200 to 400mg daily with dinner).