Everyone's talking about sleep – how to get more of it, how to get good quality amounts of it, how to overcome insomnia, the list goes on. It seems like our everyday stresses are more and more affecting the much-needed physical, emotional and mental rest that we're meant to get for an average of 8 hours a night. Sleep deprivation is certainly no fun and can make you feel like the brain and body are falling apart.
Let's look at the symptoms of sleep deprivation to then understand how we can manage insomnia and finally get a good night's sleep naturally.
Sleep deprivation effects on the brain and body
1. Insomnia can make you feel depressed and anxious
Insomnia is one of the most closely linked sleep disorders to mood issues like anxiety and depression. It's like a double-edged sword because poor sleep will make someone more prone to negative emotional feelings like anxiety and stress, and then this naturally interferes with one's ability to sleep. The good news is that the treatment goes both ways too – by treating anxiety, peoples' sleep will improve and by treating insomnia peoples' anxiety will get better.
2. Lack of sleep can make you gain weight
The hormone ghrelin is related to sleep and weight. It tells your brain when you need to eat, when it should stop burning calories and when it should store energy as fat. When you sleep you require less energy than when you're awake, so your levels of ghrelin decrease. People who don't sleep enough end up with too much ghrelin, so the body thinks it's hungry and it needs more calories, and it stops burning those calories because it thinks there's a shortage (1). This leads to unwanted weight gain.
3. Not sleeping enough can make you develop more wrinkles
When you don't get enough sleep, your body releases more of the stress hormone, cortisol. In excess amounts, cortisol breaks down the protein in the skin known as collagen, leaving you with fine lines, puffiness and dark circles (2).
4. Insomnia can make you more forgetful
During sleep, it is believed that information that is learned during the day is processed and transferred into the brain from the hippocampus to the neocortex. Without adequate sleep, this process doesn't occur and information is not stored (3).
5. Lack of sleep can impair your judgment
Reflexes, reaction times and concentration are all at risk when you're not getting enough sleep. This leads to an inability to perform tasks, especially those that require complex thinking and coordination like driving. In fact, the National Highway and Safety Administration in the US estimates that fatigue contributes to 100,000 car crashes and 1,550 crash-related deaths per year (4). Similarly, sleep-deprived people are more prone to accidents at work.
How to sleep better through the night naturally
Now that we know the causes and effects of sleep deprivation, let's look at the best tips and natural ways you can try to fall asleep fast and stay asleep through the night from now on.
1. Getting active can help you fall asleep fast
Being active helps to reduce stress naturally, whether you're stimulating yourself physically with exercise, or mentally – therefore can increase your drive for sleep and help you get your zzz's on faster.
2. Watch what you eat and drink before bed
Avoid caffeine, alcohol and spicy foods at least six hours before bedtime. They stimulate the body, and contrary to what many think, alcohol won’t make you sleep like a baby. It may knock you out initially, but within a few hours as the body starts to eliminate the alcohol, it will wake you or, at best, cause a restless sleep.
3. Go to sleep when you’re tired
When your brain sends you signals that it's time for bed, listen to it. There’s no clearer sign than struggling to keep your eyes open to finish a show when you're lounging on the sofa, for example. If you choose to ignore these signs, then you’ll get overtired and it will be hard to fall sleep later.
4. Don’t go to sleep if you’re not tired
A big mistake people often make is that they go to sleep before they are ready, which leads to a cycle of tossing and turning. If you get into bed when you’re not tired, you may end up worrying about not falling asleep for long, so only get into bed when you're tired and don’t miss your window of opportunity to get to sleep.
5. Do a digital detox before bedtime
If you rely on your phone as an alarm clock, be aware that the lights from these kinds of devices are incompatible with sleep and might trick the brain into staying awake when you should be sleeping. Phones and tablets stimulate the brain, which is counter to what you’re trying to achieve as you wind down for the night. So make your bedroom a device-free zone close to bedtime to increase your chances of getting better quality rest.
By focusing on the things that you have control over, you'll ensure a better night's sleep. If you're anxious about being a poor sleeper, then try to change the way you think about it. In most cases, it's a fixable issue related to lifestyle. Here's to better quality rest.
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1. Science Journal – How Stuff Works: https://science.howstuffworks.com/life/sleep-obesity1.htm
2. US National Library of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4082169/
3. Science Direct: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960982213006362
4. National Highway and Safety Administration: drowsydriving.org/about/facts-and-stats/