Remember when we were kids? Nap and bedtime were the worst things ever! I mean, how dare our parents stop the fun and tell us to go to sleep! Right? Now, well a lot of us find the idea of a nap heavenly and a full night's sleep as a rare treat. Funny how when you're an adult you want to do all the stuff you used to do as a kid.
It's not just us not wanting to adult anymore that is driving the dreams of sleep. As a society, Americans are horribly sleep deprived, I've heard that from yoga instructors, mental health teachers, counselors and massage therapists along with a whole ton of research that is echoing those same ideas, even kids now are suffering from insomnia.
Sleep's important for a whole myriad of reasons, and the demands of our lives keep making it harder and harder for us to get any. Before we go into ways to work on that, let's get into why sleep is so important.
This Article has a great info graphic showing everything lack of sleep affects but here's a quick rundown:
"Sleep deprivation leaves the brain exhausted, so it can’t perform its duties well. The most obvious effect is sleepiness. You may find yourself yawning a lot and feeling sluggish. Lack of sleep interferes with your ability to concentrate and learn new things. It can negatively impact both short-term and long-term memory. It gets in the way of your decision-making process and stifles creativity. Your emotions are also affected, making you more likely to have a short temper and mood swings. Overall cognitive function is impaired.
Sleep deprivation means your immune system doesn’t have a chance to build up its forces. According to the Mayo Clinic, studies show that if you don’t get enough sleep, it’s more likely that your body won’t be able to fend off invaders. It may also take you longer to recover from illness. Long-term sleep deprivation raises your risk of developing chronic illnesses like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
Sleep deprivation increases production of the stress hormone cortisol. Lack of sleep lowers your levels of a hormone called leptin, which tells your brain that you’ve had enough to eat. In addition, it raises levels of a biochemical called ghrelin, which is an appetite stimulant.
Sleep deprivation prompts your body to release higher levels of insulin after you eat, promoting fat storage and increasing your risk of developing type 2 diabetes."
Remember cortisol? Our Friend that we talked about earlier? Yup, lack of sleep makes cortisol go all wonky too. These are only some general areas sleep affects. People who are stressed, anxious or depressed or have PTSD or other biological brain disorders often don't sleep enough which makes their brains even more overloaded, making their symptoms worse, which makes the brain even more....you see the cycle here? Lack of sleep that goes on long enough can also literally shrink your brain.
"European researchers looked at 147 adults between the ages of 20 and 84. With two MRI scans, they examined the link between sleep problems like insomnia and the study participants' brain volume. The first scan was taken before patients completed a questionnaire pertaining to their sleep habits. The second scan was done approximately 3½ years later.The questionnaire showed that 35% of those in the study met the criteria for poor sleep health. Investigators found that those with sleep problems had a more rapid decline in brain volume or size over the course of the study than those who slept well.
The results were even more significant in participants over the age of 60."
The other interesting and dangerous thing about chronic lack of sleep that your body tricks you into thinking it's adapted to it and you can function, because, remember, the body's main goal is to keep you functioning as long as possible. Per the last page of this WebMD Article, "Sleep-deprived people seem to be especially prone to poor judgment when it comes to assessing what lack of sleep is doing to them. In our increasingly fast-paced world, functioning on less sleep has become a kind of badge of honor. But sleep specialists say if you think you’re doing fine on less sleep, you’re probably wrong. And if you work in a profession where it’s important to be able to judge your level of functioning, this can be a big problem.
“Studies show that over time, people who are getting six hours of sleep, instead of seven or eight, begin to feel that they’ve adapted to that sleep deprivation -- they’ve gotten used to it,” Gehrman says. “But if you look at how they actually do on tests of mental alertness and performance, they continue to go downhill. So there’s a point in sleep deprivation when we lose touch with how impaired we are.”
What happens is your body, since you're forcing it to function on substandard sleep, shoulders the burden and tricks you into thinking you're doing okay when you're really not, so we push it harder and harder until we crash and collapse, or come down with health issues which can be linked back to lack of sleep.
All right, now that we talked about all the reasons we need to sleep, how do we get the brain to stop racing around and let us zonk out and rest?
1. Turn off or mute your phones, hide them under something and don't look at them starting about 30 mins before you want to sleep. Step away from the computers and TV and actually prep yourself for sleep. (Yeah, I see your heads shaking, your eyes rolling and hear the scoffs, hear me out here.) All the cool flashy lights, notifications and cool things our beloved gadgets do stimulate our brains, that's why we're hooked on them. We need to tell our brain it's time to get off the techno-induced stimulus and get it to switch to sleep mode before we can get it to actually turn off. Think of it as a power saver mode for your brain. So, put all that down, brush your teeth, take a shower, whatever and then get into an actual dark room, turn your AC down a bit (if it's summer) close your eyes and do measured breathing. I will always come back to breathing, because it's important. Let your brain run around, try to ignore it and count breaths. It will be hard, it will seem pointless and like you need a distraction but stick with it. If all else fails, read a book, not a e-book, but an actual book, your brain perceives actual books differently than ebooks, or listen to soft music or a white noise machine.
2. Do it the next day, and the next. As often as you can. Here's why. Once or twice does not train your brain to relax. It's a whole new way of doing things and you have to stick with it. There are also some yoga poses to induce sleepiness, here's a quick 8 min routine you can do to relax.
3. Don't drink caffeine or eat sugary things before bed.
And 4. Give yourself permission to sleep! Life is hard, life is complicated and we tend to forget about our own needs when caring for others, working etc. You can't help others or do a good job if you're functioning at half or a third speed. You have a right to be healthy, honor that right.
Hope this gets some of you to get more restful nights.
Hugs and good vibes,
Kat is a LMT in AZ with close to a half decade of experience. She likes to talk to ppl about their health, make them feel better and get them to realize they have so much power to control their own health. Snarky yet informative, that's Kat in a nutshell. She's also available for personalized, targeted therapeutic massages, please see the scheduling page if you live in the Phoenix AZ area.