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We Need Sleep

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Mary Lee is a researcher for the sleep science hub She specializes in sleep's role in mental and physical health and wellness. Mary lives in Olympia, Washington and shares her full-sized bed with a very noisy cat.

Sleep may be a necessary biological function, but it can still be a challenge for many people to get a full night’s rest. Everything from stress to an unpredictable work schedule may stand in the way of getting seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. As sleep becomes more elusive, many people find their stress levels rising. Without sleep, handling and dealing with stress simply becomes more difficult. But, there are steps you can take to increase the quantity and quality of your sleep.

Sleep deprivation permeates into all facets of your health. The brain uses sleep to cleanse out toxins and prune pathways and connections built throughout the day. Without adequate rest, reaction times, reasoning skills, and critical-thinking abilities start to go down.

The immune system uses sleep time to heal and restore the body. Not only can it not get important repairs done, but it cannot work at full capacity without enough rest. Consequently, the body becomes more susceptible to colds and infections, which tend to last longer because of a tired immune system.

Lack of sleep also affects your appetite. Studies have shown time and time again that sleep deprivation causes the hunger control hormone ghrelin and the satiety hormone leptin to get released in different amounts when a person has gotten less than five hours of sleep. With hunger up, the body also craves high-fat, sugary foods, and the body’s ability to resist those foods goes down.  Sleep problems are often accompanied by unwanted weight gain and obesity.

With so many parts of the body affected by sleep deprivation, it should come as no surprise that stress levels rise with sleep loss. Irritability, aggression, and agitation become a more common response. Overall sleep deprivation leaves people vulnerable to more illnesses like depression, anxiety high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, dementia, and diabetes.

Some people may believe they don’t have the power to change their sleep habits, but every individual can make changes towards better sleep. It starts by creating a bedroom that is completely devoted to sleep. It should not be a multipurpose space. The mattress should support the preferred sleep position, which should not cause any aches and pains in the morning. At night the room temperature should be cool (somewhere between 60-68 degrees) with little to no light and sound.

Discipline and personal habits before bedtime can have a big impact on sleep quality, too.

  • Turn Off Screens: The bright light from e-readers, smartphones, televisions, and laptops can make your brain believe it’s daytime. It can cause a delay in the release of the hormones that make you feel sleepy. Shut off the screens at least an hour before bed to keep your brain and body on track.

  • Create a Bedtime Routine: A bedtime routine should relax the mind and body in preparation for sleep. Meditation, gentle yoga, reading a book, or a warm bath are all good ways to release stress before getting into bed.

  • Keep a Consistent Bed and Wake Time: The body relies on circadian rhythms to establish a sleep-wake cycle. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day helps the body know when to start and stop the cycle.