I recently chatted with a client of mine who wakes up at 3:30AM every morning (with 2 alarm clocks and 3 snooze attempts, mind you) because in her words, “that’s literally the only block of my day not scheduled for someone else and I can think clearly to get some work done.” She was on her 4th cup of coffee as she relayed this to me. In another conversation from just last week, a mother of three explained that she knows she isn’t getting enough sleep and that it’s affecting her health in ways she feels she cannot control or even fully understand yet, like metabolism being out of balance and cognitive functioning.
It’s only two conversations, but I think sleep deprivation–which, by the way, is defined as getting consistently less than 6 hours of sleep each night–is another epidemic in our country (and likely worldwide), and the science tells us there’s a whole slew of negative side effects. We know we’re meant to sleep and no amount of caffeine or special medication will ever change that. I’ve read about new drugs being developed that will allow humans to sleep even less than we do now and still function. Sounds a lot like all those empty diet pill promises to me and how our culture endlessly mandates we live in ways counter to our biological imperatives.
While science is still figuring out exactly what our brains and bodies do during sleep, we know that essentially it’s a key time for our brains to “clean” themselves and process the data from our stimulating waking hours. We know our bodies use sleep to synthesize hormones, repair tissue, and even grow muscles. If you’ve ever pulled an all nighter or you’ve been a new parent, you might know what it’s like to experience the mental, emotional, and physical “fog” that comes from lack of sleep. We also know that you can’t really “catch up” on sleep over the weekend or in a set block of time in the future. We need consistent adequate sleep to function properly and, just like eating a diet in whole foods and staying properly hydrated, making adequate sleep a non-negotiable priority is imperative to your long-term wellbeing. The average adult requires anywhere from 7 to 9 hours of sleep at night. I’m right in the middle and need 8 to 8.5 hours to feel like my best self. Anything less and I immediately notice mood and energy differences throughout the day.
SIGNS YOU’RE NOT SLEEPING ENOUGH
- Brain fog or memory issues
- Poor immune system
- Anxiety and feeling overly stressed
- Emotional imbalances and irritability
- Poor complexion (acne, skin looking dull, bloodshot eyes)
- Digestion issues
- Always hungry and craving sugary foods
- Unexplained weight gain
INADEQUATE SLEEP SIDE EFFECTS
- Revs up appetite-stimulating hormones and lowers appetite-suppressing hormones (i.e. makes us feel hungry when we shouldn’t be)
insulin resistance(which could lead to Type 2 Diabetes)
- Lowers self-control
- Lowers both motivation and energy to exercise
SUGGESTIONS FOR BETTER SLEEP
- Turn your smartphone or tablets onto “night shift light” instead of that blue light you use during the day. Blue light is brain stimulating and can lead to insomnia and other brain disorders.
- Set a technology “fasting” time at least 30 minutes prior to bedtime.
- Set a food fasting time at least 2 hours prior to sleep.
- Create a bedtime routine and stick with it whenever possible. Activities like taking a warm bath, meditating, or diffusing lavender and cedarwood essential oils before bed can be part of that routine.
- Get enough movement in throughout the day so the body’s energy levels are properly depleted as they’re meant to be when our heads hit the pillow.
- Practice mindfulness throughout the day and make a “to do” list so you can cross items off as you complete them, giving your brain small rewards along the way.
- Eat primarily whole foods and spread out your protein evenly throughout the day.
- Say no to activities when possible during the day so that waking up at 3:30AM isn’t the only chance you get to work on things in peace!
I am not a licensed nutritionist or dietician. You should always consult with a nutritionist and your primary care provider before changing diets in any way or your doctor before trying out any supplement or medication. This article is not meant to cure, heal or otherwise solve any medical conditions whatsoever. It is based on personal experience and research.