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I’m stoked to say that Mel – our resident clinical research nurse – is back with another great post!
Mel has worked in the healthcare field for over 30 years, has been a contributing author on 11 scientific publications, and currently works as a clinical research nurse at a world-renowned hospital system. She has been gracious enough to share some of her knowledge on the importance of quality sleep with us and we’re thrilled that’s the case!
Have you ever said to yourself, “I could really go for a good night’s sleep?” Or, “What I wouldn’t do for a good night’s sleep!” Well, you are not alone! Sleep is a vital indicator of overall health and well-being*. It is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. Our bodies function best with enough quality sleep. Think of sleep like medicine that needs to be taken regularly. Sure, we’ve all skipped a dose of quality sleep before, maybe by choice or not. Either way, you know what I’m talking about!
As I sit here at the base of a beautiful mountain that my husband and I, along with friends, just skied the past 3 days with, it really got me thinking about how important sleep is, AND what a challenge it often is to get a “good night’s sleep.”
Here are some of the most common reasons that make it tough to get enough quality sleep on a regular basis:
- Pain-chronic or acute for any reason
- Babies, toddlers, or children waking up needing your help during the night or a teenager that is out past curfew and you haven’t heard from them
- Your partner or roommate snoring
- Worrying about work, school, or family obligations
- General fretting about things of the past or future, for example, finances
- Can’t get comfortable in bed – too hot or too cold
- Daylight savings time – proposed by Benjamin Franklin in 1784. Was later implemented during the First World War. The purpose was to increase daylight in the evening and decrease electricity use. A good idea, but disrupts sleep
- Jet lag- Time zone changes with travel
- 10. Certain medications like diuretics, also known as “water” pills, taken to help remove fluid/water buildup in people with high blood pressure, heart disease, or caffeine products that one may take to stay awake during shift work or to study
- 11. Shift work
- 12. You have a diagnosed or undiagnosed sleep disorder
- 13. Reader fill in the blank _____
- 14. ETC
A goal for most people after sleeping is wanting to feel refreshed and rested.
It’s common to ask, “How did you sleep last night?” Did you know the drive for sleep is stronger than the drive for food and water? That’s why people who don’t get enough good sleep try a lot of different things, including: sleep aids like melatonin, sleepy time tea, a “my pillow” or equivalent, a prescription sleep aid or over the counter “PM” something, ear plugs, separate bedrooms for a snoring partner / roommate, a new mattress, background music, falling asleep with the TV on, and …..
At various times in your life, you most likely have experienced something that kept you from getting a good night’s sleep. Sleep is such an important part of our lives that there is a dedicated medical specialty called “sleep medicine.” And because sleep (specifically – good sleep) is so important, I’m going to touch on some of the most vital issues relating to sleep below.
This post will cover:
- What is “sleep” and why “sleep” is important – physical and psychological benefits
- How sleep impacts healthy eating and active living – did you know poor quality sleep impacts a person’s ability to lose weight?
- Sleep Hygiene – what can you do about it?
- When is it time to see a doctor?
What is sleep and why is it important?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines sleep as, “a condition of body and mind which typically recurs for several hours every night, in which the nervous system is inactive, the eyes closed, the postural muscles relaxed, and consciousness practically suspended.” Enough quality sleep is so important that when it is lacking, there are noted to be many detrimental effects on the body. This is known as “sleep deprivation”. Check out this link to see happens when you don’t get the sleep you need.
One of the reasons I am interested in sleep is that poor quality sleep impacts a person’s ability to lose weight. More on that later… Additionally, people who do not get enough or adequate sleep accumulate “sleep debt” that needs to be repaid. You may have experienced this yourself after having not gotten enough quality sleep and later made up for it by sleeping longer. It’s true that poor sleep has a negative impact on the quality of our days, but it’s also true that much of what we do during our waking hours has an impact on how we sleep at night. We’ll talk about that in sleep hygiene. First, there are two factors that work to affect sleep.
The 1st factor that drives sleep relates to how long we are awake.
The longer a person is awake the stronger the drive for sleep becomes. Once we go to sleep, this drive goes down.
The 2nd factor that affects a person’s sleep is their circadian rhythm or biological clock.
This rhythm varies within a 24-hour cycle. It peaks typically during periods of darkness, making you want to sleep, and decreases during periods of light. Think of this as a person’s “awake drive.”
These 2 factors work best when they are in “sync”. When either is disrupted, a person’s sleep is disrupted and this wreaks havoc on our bodies. For example, let’s say a new parent is awake for long periods of time due to taking care of a new baby whose sleep schedule is different from the parents. Factor one is disrupted because the parent is awake for longer periods than is normal. The parent is taking care of the newborn who needs a lot of care and then the parent tries to meet other demands, which may include work or taking care of other family members, etc. Or, if the newborn is up during night time, i.e. periods of darkness, the parent is not sleeping when their biological rhythm is kicking in, factor 2.
How much sleep is enough? The research says 7.5hours. Sleep prepares the body for the next day’s activities, both physiologically and psychologically. * Check out the National sleep foundation for more information on sleep.
How Sleep Impacts Healthy Eating and Active Living
If you or someone you know is working on eating healthy, losing a few pounds or getting more active, the research shows that either not enough or poor quality sleep impacts a person’s ability to lose weight. How?
- Increased hunger! That’s right, the hormones that drive hunger are affected. The first hormone is called ghrelin, which increases a person’s hunger. When we don’t get enough quality sleep, this hormone is disrupted, it increases, and a person will feel more “hungry” as a result. The other is leptin-this decreases a person’s hunger. When we don’t get enough quality sleep this hormone is disrupted and goes down. When leptin goes down that increases a person’s hunger.
- If you are not sleeping, you are likely doing something. It gives more time/opportunity to eat! Chances are you are not eating carrots but cookies, chips etc.
- Internal temperature regulation is altered. With sleep, the core temperature drops. If we are not sleeping, but awake the bodies core temperature is disrupted.
- Lack of sleep leads to fatigue – you are less likely to want to be active or prepare healthy meals.
- Lack of sleep stresses the body. The body releases stress hormones, specifically catecholamines and cortisol, which lead to weight gain.
The best way to keep this from happening is by getting enough quality sleep.
Sleep Hygiene – what can you do about it? How to improve your sleep
Some of you may have heard of the term sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene refers to the habits and practices that are conducive to sleeping well on a regular basis. Just like other activities you prepare for during your daily routine (i.e. exercise, healthy eating, and school activities), it’s also important to prepare and engage in activities that will help your sleep.
Here are some things to consider:
Regular sleep hours – go to bed at the same time every day, even on weekends.
Limit daytime napping or how long you nap. Longer than 20 minutes can disrupt nighttime sleep.
Do not go to bed until you are tired. This will start to occur naturally as you establish a regular bedtime.
Limit caffeinated beverages, at least 6-8 hours before bedtime. For most people this about 3 PM. If this is not a factor for you, fine, however, be aware that for some people this will “keep them up all night.”
Do not drink alcohol or smoke. Alcohol may help you fall asleep fast but you are likely to wake up sooner. The earlier waking disrupts the Rapid eye movement (REM) of the sleep cycle. Nicotine of any kind can be stimulating, making it hard to fall asleep.
Limits fluids – drink most of your fluids about 3 hours before going to bed.
Empty your bladder before sleep
Take bedtime meds one hour before bedtime. This is especially helpful if you are taking a medication of any kind to aid sleep – pain medication etc.
Use your bedroom for sleeping only. Avoid TV and computer games which can be stimulating to your brain.
Keep the room dark and cool
Use an alarm to wake you up at about the same time every day. This will help you stay on schedule.
Limit exercise if it keeps you up. Some people find that this keeps them up if they exercise too close to bedtime. If this is the case for you, listen to your body and get your exercise in earlier.
If you go to bed and are still awake after 20 minutes, get up and do something boring, like reading, this may help you feel more tired and help you to fall asleep.
Using these suggestions may take 2-3 weeks to improve your sleep. Don’t be discouraged. It will be worth getting more and enough quality sleep.
When is it time to see a doctor?
Your family doctor may refer you to pulmonologists or neurologists, who are specialists that are often consulted. Sleep disorders can be the result of a physical or psychological problem. Other symptoms of sleep disorders include: falling asleep while driving, struggling to stay awake when you are inactive, memory or concentration problems, slow reaction times, people commenting, “you look tired”, wanting to nap often, and trouble controlling emotions.
One of the most common sleep disorders I see in people is sleep apnea.
Symptoms of sleep apnea include snoring, excessive daytime sleepiness, unrefreshed sleep, gasping for air at night, and waking with a headache. Also, witnessed “apnea,” occurs where someone sees that you have stopped breathing during sleep. In severe cases, these periods can last 30 to 90 seconds. It is also a myth that only people who are overweight have sleep apnea. Children, elite athletes and people who are not overweight can also have sleep apnea.
One-third of our lives are spent sleeping. Good sleep quality and quantity are both extremely important. Poor sleep affects the quality of our lives, both physically and psychologically. If you struggle to get enough quality sleep, become curious to find out why. First, are either of the two factors (how long you are awake and/or your circadian rhythm) out of sync? Chances are yes! Second, work on sleep hygiene skills to improve your sleep. Remember give it 2-3 weeks. Third, if you think you may have a sleep disorder, get it checked. “When in doubt, check it out.” Sleep disorders are treatable. Working on getting good sleep quality and quantity are both worth the effort you put into it. Last, the next time someone asks, “how did you sleep last night” won’t it be awesome to smile and say, “great!” Wishing you “sweet dreams!”
*National Sleep Foundation
Thanks for reading!