Sleep is a vital bodily function that restores and revitalizes us. It keeps the body strong and the mind alert. It allows for physical and mental growth as well as improvement in cognitive function.
Sleep deprivation is one of the most common complaints among those who suffer from chronic illness and it can be a major obstacle to both disease management and overall wellness. Whether it’s staying up late cramming for an exam or waking early to care for a child, daily schedules can often interfere with a good night’s rest.
At times, the need to pull all-nighters or work through the day may seem unavoidable. And while it’s certainly possible to function normally despite being sleep deprived, you’re not doing your health any favors.
Let’s explore the importance of having 7 to 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night.
Stages of Sleep
Why is sleep important? Sleep is important because sleep happens in several stages, each of which plays a role in our cognition and physical well-being. Three main stages make up the bulk of shut-eye, while the other one is where you experience rapid eye movements.
- Stage 1 NREM: This is the lightest stage of sleep during which you drift in and out of consciousness for several minutes.
- Stage 2 NREM: Characterized by a decrease in brain activity, this stage is the shortest period of the sleep cycle at around 10 minutes. Heart rate and muscle tension relax.
- Stage 3 NREM: Heartbeat, breathing, and brain wave activity reach their minimum.
- REM Stage: Dreaming happens during this light sleep stage in which blood flow to the brain increases and your eyes move rapidly.
When we lose sleep, we miss out on each of these key stages and their specific functions. People enter each stage for about 90-120 minutes before moving on to the next stage.
By losing sleep hours, you are eliminating hundreds of minutes that could have been spent in restorative sleep—consequently affecting the effectiveness of each sleep stage to perform its respective functions.
How to Sleep Better
Just like you need to eat certain types of foods and avoid others for your body to function optimally, the same is true with sleep. This means that there are things that you can do to improve your sleep quality.
1) Avoid Electronics Late at Night
Electronics (TVs, electronics, laptops, etc.) emit a blue light that signals our body to stay awake. This is why being in a dark room with electronics stimulates the brain and makes it harder to fall asleep. A good rule of thumb is to avoid electronics at least one hour before going to bed.
2) Incorporate Relaxation into Your Routine (i.e. Yoga, Meditation)
When we’re stressed and anxious, our body’s in a constant state of fight or flight. This will keep your brain stimulated, making it harder to sleep.
By mindfully practicing yoga or meditation, you can reduce stress and anxiety—both of which are known to inhibit sleep.
3) Exercise Early in the Day
Exercise is a great way to keep our bodies fit and strong. But when it’s done within 3-4 hours before going to bed, it can have negative effects on sleep quality. This is because exercise increases our body temperature and heart rate, which is beneficial for fitness but not conducive to sleep.
4) Maintain a Consistent Sleep Schedule
Going to bed and waking at the same time every day helps to regulate the body’s circadian rhythm—or internal clock. This rhythm keeps us alert during the day and drowsy at night.
When we don’t maintain a regular sleep and wake schedule, it can mess up our circadian rhythm and cause sleeping disorders such as insomnia.
5) Use a CPAP Machine
Finally, a CPAP machine is an effective way to improve sleep quality. This machine uses pressurized air to help you breathe during the night. If you snore, it’s a sign that your breathing is shallow and your airways are blocked by soft tissue in the back of your throat while sleeping.
6) Take Natural Sleep Supplements
You can take a natural sleep aid to help you sleep faster and better. Natural sleep aids usually contain melatonin, chamomile, passionflower, lemon balm, valerian, and other plant extracts or essential oils.
Melatonin is naturally found in the body, a hormone secreted by the pineal gland found in the brain. The recommended dose of melatonin is one to five milligrams before you sleep at night. Chamomile provides a calming effect, promoting relaxation and sleep. On the other hand, valerian, an herbal medicine, is made from a plant root. Valerian acts as a sedative, improving sleep.
If you’re not into taking in capsules or pills, you can use the tea version of natural sleep aids, such as chamomile or lemon tea.
7) Improve Your Bedroom Ambiance
If your bedroom ambiance is not good, you might have difficulty falling asleep. So, why not revamp your bedroom design on your next day off? You can do this by decluttering and cleaning your bedroom first. Remove all unnecessary decors and things that are possible sources of sleep disturbance.
Change your sheer curtain with a blackout curtain to give you long hours of sleep during the day if you have a graveyard shift. Tone down bedroom lighting by changing the bulbs (such as warm white LED bulbs) or lighting fixtures (like recessed lighting controlled by a dimmer) to help promote a good night’s rest.
Body Functioning & Health
When the body is deprived of sufficient sleep it can experience a host of problems including reduced immunity, increased chance of getting chronic illnesses, impaired cognitive performance, and even weight gain. Let’s look at how sleep affects your health:
The length of sleep we get has a significant influence on how our bodies defend themselves against outside invaders.
Studies show that people who don’t get enough sleep experience more frequent and severe colds and flu, as well as other infectious diseases. The reason for this is that during REM sleep, our bodies bolster the production of T-cells – specialized lymphocytes that attack invading pathogens.
So if you’re worried about catching illnesses, get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation can lead to a weakened immune system that is slow to respond to attacks by both infectious agents and viruses.
2) Affects Chance of Chronic Illnesses
According to research by the CDC, when your body’s deprived of sleep, you’d be more vulnerable to chronic illnesses such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity.
You won’t be properly hydrated and your blood sugar will be in a constant state of flux, putting you at risk for both cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Your body’s ability to regulate glucose levels is impaired when you’re short on sleep. The same thing happens with insulin production. This means that loss of sleep can lead to increased appetite and weight gain – which can worsen your overall health.
Conversely, optimizing sleep duration is a good method to fix this lapse and improve blood sugar levels and other impaired functions in the body.
3) Impaired Brain Function
Sleep deprivation can cause us to feel drowsy, unfocused, and irritable during the day.
When you’re sleep-deprived, your cognitive performance is impaired. Your ability to make logical decisions is hindered, your memory lapses, and even your creativity takes a hit. When you lose many hours of sleep over several days, it becomes more difficult to work effectively, making job and family life more challenging.