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The Importance of Sleep For General Health

While we all know sleep is important, a large percentage of people don’t have an established sleep schedule or prioritize proper rest intervals. Adults need to be aiming for at least 7-9 hours a night of sleep, but an alarming 70% of people have at least one night a month of insufficient sleep and 11% report daily issues. Sleep deprivation occurs when we sleep less than the number of hours we need a night and/or have poor quality of sleep. Even if you “sleep” those 7-9 hours, if you are waking up frequently, that is still considered inadequate sleep.

Many people believe they can train themselves to sleep less, but that is a myth. Your body still needs this much sleep, and you may be suffering from side effects you don’t realize. Or you may just be used to living with those side effects and your body has adjusted, but this is not true.

Are insomnia and sleep deprivation the same?

No. These are 2 different issues impacting sleep. Sleep deprivation is when you don’t have enough time to sleep or don’t sleep through the allotted time. Insomnia is when you have plenty of time to sleep, but your body won’t allow you to fall asleep. Both have severe impacts on the body.

Acute vs. Chronic Sleep Deprivation

When you find yourself not sleeping enough hours for a short period of time, that is classified as acute deprivation. When you spend 3 or more months going through frequent sleep deprivation, that is considered chronic.

How Does Reduced Sleep Impact the Body?

While we all know that not getting enough sleep makes us feel sleepy, there’s so much more to it than that! Other symptoms to look out for include:

  • Slower thinking

  • Reduced attention span

  • Worsened memory

  • Risky/bad decision making

  • Lack of energy

  • Mood changes

  • Increased anxiety or irritability

  • Reduced immune function

  • Inflammation in the body

  • Increased risk of mistakes

  • Tremors

  • Difficulty processing social cues

Is it Sleep Deprivation or Depression?

In a study from, “Sleep deprivation weakens the prefrontal cortex’s (reasoning) ability to control the amygdala (emotions), making it difficult to process and cope with emotions. When the brain is deprived of adequate sleep, it also struggles to concentrate and regulate growth and appetite.”

With this in mind it can be very difficult to determine if someone is suffering from sleep deprivation or depression. Both have similar side effects and impact daily function and mood. Sometimes people are not fully open about their sleeping habits to their doctors, thinking they are functioning fine on reduced sleep, and end up on medication for depression without seeing how the body is feeling after adequate sleep.

If you take some time to prioritize sleep and still find you have interruptions in your mood, or the inability to control those moods, make sure to seek the help of a doctor.

How Long Does it Take to Recover From Sleep Deprivation

Many people are aware of how much sleep they are missing, but work with the mentality that they can make it up later, or that they will be “fine.” The reality is that even if you miss one night of good sleep, you can’t just make it up the next day. Studies have shown that losing 1 hour of necessary sleep can take up to 4 days to recover. So for those who frequently suffer from missed sleep, it could take weeks or even months to get back to a good base level. Once you get into the habit of not getting enough sleep, it becomes incredibly difficult to break the cycle, especially when you know how long it will take to bounce back.

How NOT to Overcome Sleep Deprivation

Napping is actually not great for you since it changes your nightly sleep cycle, but if you are having serious exhaustion and have no option, make sure to only sleep for 20 minute cycles to avoid falling into a deep sleep and being more foggy after. It’s also good to note that you also don’t want to oversleep, so be sure you aren’t sleeping more than 9 hours.

How to Break the Cycle and Prioritize Sleep

Once you have created a habit of poor sleep, that can become the bodies’ natural sleep cycle. This means you may not be able to just start sleeping 7-9 hours. You may have to create a plan on how to train the body to sleep again. Some of the best ways to create a healthy environment for sleep include:

  • Creating a sleep routine

A great way to teach your body when it is time to sleep is to create a daily routine. This could include many things like taking a bath or shower, doing skincare, stretching, etc. The key is to establish the same pattern you can repeat every day so your body associates those specific actions in that order as time for bed. You’d want to give yourself the same amount of time each day to do that routine and preferably start it at the same time each day.

  • Picking a bedtime

While this is not possible for everyone, if you are able, going to bed at the same time every day can help promote your body producing natural melatonin. This will help your body to become sleepy at the same time everyday and hopefully sleep better through the night.

  • Meditation

A common reason that people struggle to fall asleep is due to their minds running 100mph. Taking even a few minutes before bed to meditate and try to clear your mind and find relaxation, can make the process of falling asleep so much easier.

  • Journaling

If after mediation you still find your mind racing, writing down your thoughts can also be very therapeutic. This is also something that only takes a few minutes.

  • Exercise

Exercise can be a great outlet for letting off steam and relaxing after a long day. It is recommended to not exercise too close to bed as the immediate adrenaline can cause the body to take longer to sleep, but exercising at other parts of the day is very helpful for creating a sleep routine.

  • Staying hydrated

A healthy body comes from a healthy mind and with that is proper hydration. Prioritize drinking 2.5-3.5L of water a day and giving your body the opportunity to relax in the evening because it has been taken care of.

  • Eating well

Balanced meals are also important in your journey to better sleep. Many people find themselves awake late at night feeling hungry and that's often because they didn’t get the full nutrients needed and their body is craving that. Make sure to get a balanced meal of carbs, fats and protein. Vary your diet and make sure that each meal is different to give yourself the best opportunity to fill all your vitamin and nutrient needs.

  • Paying attention to your body

This seems like common sense, but paying attention to when you are actually tired is really important. We often confuse exhaustion for hunger or other emotions. Being in touch with how you are feeling can help you to notice sleep cues and avoid getting to a place where you are overly tired and unable to fall asleep.

  • Avoiding triggers close to bedtime

Watching tv, being active on your phone, or doing work too close to bedtime can cause you to be too mentally stimulated to fall asleep. This is one of the most common reasons why people struggle to fall asleep at night. Make sure you are creating a stimulant free environment that can lead to he best opportunity to fall asleep.

  • Giving yourself time to unwind

Taking the time to relax before bedtime is also very important. This could be some deep breathing, bath, stretching etc. Create a mindset that is relaxed and not overrun with thoughts and work.

Reduced sleep can impact your entire life and reduce your quality of life greatly. So if you are struggling to get the sleep you need, make sure to get some help from your doctor. No one is superhuman and can function without it!

Until next time… and remember sleep is for all!

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