What’s Sleep Got To Do With It? Actually, everything!
Let’s start with learning what exactly the word, or activity of sleeping, means. Wikipedia describes sleep as “a naturally recurring state characterized by reduced or absent consciousness, relatively suspended sensory activity, and inactivity of nearly all voluntary muscles. It is distinguished from quiet wakefulness by a decreased ability to react to stimuli… Sleep is a heightened anabolic state, accentuating the growth and rejuvenation of the immune, nervous, skeletal and muscular systems.”
This definition provides a very powerful explanation of why sleep is so important. During an anabolic state, tissues found within the human body obtain energy for growth and maintenance. It means that our bodies NEED sleep to repair itself.
So what’s sleep got to do with it? It’s got to do with everything!
Sleep and stress
When sleeping, your stress hormone levels return to normal. Stress hormones are only meant to be present for short periods of time. Not bringing these levels back to normal for long periods of time leads to sickness, disease and weight gain.
Stress is probably the number one cause for sleep deprivation. The National Institute of Occupational Hazard and Health has found that “80% of workers feel stress on the job and nearly half say they need help in learning how to manage stress.
What are some things that cause stress and sleep deprivation? Since we spend most of our waking hours at work, most stress is work-related.
– Overthinking (relationships and work, co-worker issues, troubleshooting problems, etc)
– Caffeine (coffee breaks)
– Overscheduling (demanding boss, heavy workload)
– Anxiety (over losing job, pay)
– Physical conditions at work (commuting, uncomfortable working set up, hazardous environment)
However, family, relationships, home/household, vehicle, bills, accidents, illness, care-taking – sometimes a few or all of them combined – can cause serious chronic stress.
Sleep and health
Chronic stress leads to excessive amounts of cortisol hormone, which can disrupt sleeping patterns.
Some hormonal changes needed for healthy development occur when we sleep. This is the reason it is so important that children sleep the correct amount of hours. This is also the reason why teens “like” to sleep so much! They are using a lot of energy going through changes and they need the sleep to recover and keep growing. Children and teens who don’t get adequate sleep tend to have serious health problems as adults.
What is adequate sleep time? The following chart offers a guide established by the National Sleep Foundation:
Sleep is cumulative; if you lose sleep one day, you feel it the next. If you miss adequate sleep several days in a row, you build up a ‘sleep deficit’, which impairs:
- Information processing
- See chart below for more effects:
Fatigued people also experience more moodiness, aggressive behaviors, burnout and more stress.
Sleep and beauty
Not getting enough sleep detracts from skin health and your health in general:
(The following excerpt was copied from and medically reviewed by Niya Jones, MD, MPH published in Everyday Health)
- It worsens existing skin conditions. Increased inflammatory response shows up as increased acne and rosacea breakouts, increased skin sensitivity, increased allergic contact dermatitis reactions, and increased irritant dermatitis — and more severe conditions mean more treatment and skin care.
- It detracts from your skin’s natural beauty. Increased inflammatory cells in the body lead to an increase in the breakdown of collagen and hyaluronic acid, the molecules that give the skin its glow, bounce, and translucency.
- it makes immune-related skin problems worse. Increased inflammation in the body throws off the body’s ability to regulate the immune system, which leads not only to getting sick more often, but also to flares of immune-related skin diseases such as psoriasis and eczema. Psoriasis is not just a skin disease; it’s also an indicator of body inflammation. Many people with severe psoriasis actually have an increased risk for heart attacks, which is even more reason to keep stress low and get good quality sleep.
- It results in less beauty. While you’re sleeping, the body’s hydration re-balances. Skin is able to recover moisture, while excess water in general in the body is processed for removal. Not getting enough sleep results in poor water balance, leading to puffy bags under your eyes and under-eye circles, as well as dryness and more visible wrinkles.
- It accelerates the aging process. During deep sleep, the rise in growth hormones allows damaged cells to become repaired. Without the deeper phases of sleep, this won’t occur, allowing daily small breakdowns to accumulate instead of being reversed overnight. This results in more noticeable signs of aging.
- it contributes to weight gain. Sleep also helps with weight management, which is good for your skin. Sleep makes you feel less hungry. Recent studies have linked sleep deprivation to excess snacking and calorie consumption.
Just as a side note, this is the reason why night serums/creams and skin treatments are so important. Because the skin (and our whole body) is in its repairing state, these products are specifically developed to work with certain cellular functions of the epidermis.
What can you do to get a restful night’s sleep?
– Exercise – burn off the energy that is keeping you awake
– Set the mood – Dim the lights, breathe calming essential oils such as lavender, chamomile, rosemary, sandalwood, bergamot or citrus
– Get into a routine – train your body to shut down at a certain time. Make sure that you stop doing mentally demanding work several hours before coming to bed – give your brain time to calm down before you try to sleep.
– Try herbs or natural supplements – Valerian root is known to help with insomnia and nervousness. GABA, melatonin and magnesium are also known to decrease anxiety and cause sleepiness. Check with your doctor first!
– Restorative yoga, meditation and thought management help with nervousness, anxiety and calms the mind
– Read – a book non-related to work or issues at hand. Read in bed so that when you get sleepy, you can just put the book aside and go to sleep. Try reading a calming, undemanding book for a few minutes, again to relax your body, tire your eyes and help you forget about the things that are worrying you.
– Write persistent thoughts and worries down in a notebook and then put them out of your mind. Review the notebook in the morning and take action if appropriate.
– Don’t eat a big meal too late in the day – you may get indigestion or heartburn and disturb your sleep.
– Drink plenty of water throughout the day, but not late at night – otherwise you will be going to the bathroom several times during the night and interrupt your sleep.
– Sleep under a warm blanket in a cool, dark, quiet room – nothing like feeling cozy under a blanket. Make sure that your mattress is comfortable and sheets are clean and soft. Use breathable cotton sheets and wash them regularly, so they don’t collect dust mites and bacteria. Use laundry detergents that don’t have strong fragrances, which can be irritating to skin.
– If your skin tends to get dry and itchy at night, keep a really good moisturizer on your nightstand and lather your body with it before going to sleep.
– Keep electronics out of the bedroom – it has been know that electronic equipment in the bedroom affects sleeping pattern. Teens should not have a computer in their bedrooms!
– Cut back on caffeine and alcohol – Some people find that they sleep badly if they drink coffee or cola after 4pm. Others find that if they drink alcohol to excess, they wake up in the middle of the night and cannot get back to sleep; not to mention feeling horribly sick in the morning.
– Seek professional help – if all else fails, it’s time to make a visit to a doctor or mental health professional.
Sleeping positions have also been found to affect your sleep. The most common sleeping position is on the side. According to a nationwide survey of more than 2,000 people performed for mattress maker Tempur-Pedic, 57% of us at least start the night on the side position. That’s followed by the back—17% and the stomach – 11%.
Each sleep position has benefits and disadvantages, although sleeping on the stomach generally isn’t recommended because it can constrain the neck. Lying flat on your back may be good for the lower back but can exacerbate digestive and breathing problems—and snoring.
Always sleeping in the same position can cause problems. Consistently compressing the body on one side or stretching another side over time can create an imbalance and result in soreness or pain in that area or exacerbate an existing condition.
If you suffer from any of these conditions, the following is recommended:
– Obstructive sleep apnea/snoring – Stay off your back (get a sleep test and get it treated. You may need a C-Pap and your life, like mine, will change!
– Acid Reflux – Sleeping on your side can help this condition
– Back pain – The rule of thumb for many back problems is that sleeping on the back is the most comfortable.
– Shoulder pain – Avoid sleeping on the side with the painful shoulder. Sleep on your back with a small pillow to support the bad shoulder. Or, if you sleep on the other side, hug a pillow.
– Neck pain – Avoid sleeping on your stomach. Turning the neck to the side compresses the joints. Sleep on your side or back.
– Hip pain – Use a pillow between your legs or on your back.
During Stress Awareness Month (April), make a drastic change in your life. Make changes that will relief stress, get a better night’s sleep today and everyday of your life, and be younger and healthier. See chart below for effects of sleep deprivation and don’t let it happen to you!