Are you laying awake in bed wondering if you will ever be able to fall asleep? You are not alone. The CDC estimates that nearly one quarter of Americans are not getting the recommended 7 hours of sleep each night. This lack of sleep is not just leaving us grumpy with bags under our eyes, it is affecting our health.
Sleep plays a critical role in thinking and learning; and lack of sleep impairs the cognitive process in many ways. Have you ever heard of “mommy brain?” The struggle is real! The sleep deprivation new moms (and dads) experience after bringing a new baby home affects their ability to think critically. Side note… I’ve been told this never really goes away. This problem, however; isn’t unique to new parents.
Lack of sleep can also affect your skin! When you are chronically overtired, your body releases more cortisol. This cortisol breaks down the collagen in your skin, which is the protein that keeps it looking smooth and tight. Dr. Phil Gerhman states that it is during our deep sleep that the hormones responsible for tissue repair are released.
In addition to putting you at risk for more serious health issues like cardiovascular disease, depression and diabetes, lack of sleep can also cause you to gain weight. Research shows that when you don’t get enough sleep, you are more likely to experience an increase in hunger and appetite. This is believed to be due to the effect on the hormones that regulate your appetite. When you are not well rested, grehlin, the hormone that stimulates hunger is increase, and leptin, the hormone that stimulates satiety is decreased. To add insult to injury, not only are you hungrier when you aren’t getting enough sleep, but you are more likely to crave unhealthy foods.
How do we set ourselves up for success when it comes to getting quality shut eye? Here are some tips to help:
- Caffeine – Avoid caffeine in the afternoon. It may be tempting to get that grande iced latte at 2pm to power you through the rest of your workday, but it may be keeping you up at night. Instead try drinking more water, or going for a short walk for a burst of energy.
- Exercise – Try getting your workout done in the morning if possible. When we exercise we raise hormone levels that give us energy. These hormones should be higher in the morning and then gradually decrease throughout the day. When we train hard at night, we may disrupt this pattern; and therefore disrupt our sleep. If you prefer to work out at night, just try something a little lower intensity. I used to think it would be impossible for me to be a morning gym-goer. That was until a few years ago when a friend invited me to join her at a bootcamp program that met at 5am. I’m not going to lie, it was rough for the first two weeks, but it slowly became my routine and I cannot even imagine trying to work out in the evenings now.
- Establish a sleep routine – If you are a parent, you know the importance of establishing a sleep routine with your child. The same principle can also work for yourself. If you have a certain set of activities you do before bed every single night, around the same time, it can signal your body that it is time to rest. In the hour before bed, try to have your last food of the day (if you’re hungry), try shutting off the tv and other devices to limit exposure to blue light, take a shower/wash your face and brush your teeth. If you want to read in bed before actually shutting your eyes, experts recommend you read an actual physical book (the kind you can hold in your hand and flip the pages) as opposed to an e-book, and to read in as low light as possible.
- Sun Exposure – Try to get some sunlight exposure between the hours of 6 and 830 am. Thirty minutes of sunlight exposure (even on an overcast day) early in the morning has been shown to help regulate your wake-sleep cycle and reset your body to be in line with the 24 hour daily rhythm of the earth.
- Supplement – If you feel like you need a little something extra to help you get to sleep. You can try taking a magnesium supplement. Research has shown that magnesium helps to decrease cortisol, the stress hormone, that can keep you up at night. If you want a recommendation for a brand, just ask; I’d be happy to share what we use in my house! Magnesium is also used to relieve constipation, so finding the right dose for your body is key. Start low, and slowly increase the dose until you find the right amount for you. With any supplements, you should always check with your doctor first to make sure it makes sense for your body and your issues.
When we get a good night’s sleep the benefits are numerous. We lower our risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, we reduce stress and inflammation on the body, we are more alert, have better memory recall and we can also lose weight more easily! Now, could someone please deliver this message to my baby boy?
As always, the advice contained in this post is informational only and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice.