The Mayo Clinic calls sleep, and getting enough of it, the foundation that all good daily habits are built upon. In other words, you are more likely to stay on track for things like time management, focus and even diet if you get a good night's sleep. The flip side of that coin is sleep deprivation — or not getting enough sleep. Those are the days that seem less productive and worthy of a good food binge to try and get your energy levels up. Those are also the days when you are just too exhausted for any form of exercise, let alone hitting the gym.
Sleep is how the body recovers and when the brain gets everything sorted out enough to create long-term "memory files". During sleep, the voluntary muscles shut down and the sensory activity stops. This mass shut-down gives your system the ability to heal and rejuvenate. Anyone looking to develop good, healthy habits needs to start with sleep. Consider some side effects of not getting enough sleep and things you can do to improve your situation.
Okay, it’s not all that surprising that poor sleep leads to fatigue. What you might not understand is the profound effect fatigue can have on your life. For one thing, it puts you and the people you love at risk. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that drowsy driving is a major factor in many traffic accidents and leads to around 8,000 crash-related fatalities each year.
Fatigue can make your mind feel numb, so you lack overall focus. This translates in a poor attention span, whether you are behind the wheel, crossing the street, cutting the vegetables with a big knife or just trying to get some work done. For students, this lack of focus can make learning almost impossible.
It goes without saying that not getting your shut-eye makes you moody, too. Fatigue is a contributing factor to both stress and depression. It’s an endless cycle. Lack of sleep makes you moody, while being moody and stressed keeps you up at night. Poor quality of sleep is one of the first signs of mood disorders like depression.
Sleeping less than seven hours a day puts you at risk for a number of health problems. Studies link overeating and higher than average body mass indexes (BMI) to sleeping less than six hours a night. People with low BMIs and those nice flat bellies tend to sleep at least eight hours a night. It’s not clear why sleep has such an impact on weight, but research shows a connection between sleep, metabolism regulation and appetite control.
Poor quality of sleep puts you at risk for developing diabetes, because sleep influences how the body processes glucose. In fact, obstructive sleep apnea, a serious sleep disorder that wakes you up several times during the night, can interfere with glucose control.
There's also a connection between lack of sleep and hypertension. Studies show that people who don’t get enough sleep at night tend to have higher blood pressure during the day. It is estimated that around 90 percent of people with a sleep disorder such as insomnia also have another chronic health problems such as high blood pressure or diabetes.
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Loss of Sex Drive
The National Sleep Foundation found that 26 percent of the population say they are just too tired to have sex. Lack of sleep is also linked to lower testosterone levels in men, as well.
Poor Sleep Accelerates Aging
Adding to all the other problems, no sleep will give you those puffy eyes and dark circles everyone dreads, along with sallow skin. When you don’t get enough sleep your body tries to help by releasing a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol then accelerates the break down of collagen – the substance that keeps skin elastic. Less elastic skin means more fine lines and wrinkles.
What to Do When Sleep Eludes You
It’s safe to say most people want to get their eight hours of sleep each night, so what goes wrong? It’s not clear why some people suffer from chronic sleep disorders that keep them awake, but making a few changes to how you do things can help.
- Set a schedule — Start by giving yourself a set bedtime. Go to bed at the same time every night and set your alarm so you wake up at the same time every morning. Don’t deviate from this schedule even on days you don’t have to go to work.
- Establish some rituals — When you were a kid, you probably did the same thing every night before going to bed by design. Parents seem to understand that a nighttime ritual is important for their kids but miss out on why it matters in their own lives. Drink a cup of tea, read a book or take a hot bath. Do something to let your brain know it’s time to sleep. Cramming work, a critical-thinking project, (or a pizza) right before bedtime is a ritual you want to avoid!
- Create the right environment — Sit down and think about what the perfect bedroom is like for you? Do you like the room cool or warm? Lots of blankets or just the sheet? Also, consider the things in your room that might keep you up at night like the light on smartphone or alarm clock. Having a TV in your bedroom is a big setback - consider moving it to another room for a while to check for improvements.
Once you get the sleep basics down, shift the focus to the rest of your day. Are your eating a balanced diet throughout the day, or stuffing your face with a pizza right before bed? That would keep anybody up. How about exercise? If your job is physically demanding that's one thing, but combine an office job - sitting at a desk for 8-10 hours a day - with a lack of exercise, and you've got a recipe for disaster. So, put together, and maintain, a proper exercise schedule. Developing healthy daytime habits will get you on track for healthy sleep.
The days of turning to pharmaceuticals to get better sleep is over, too – with their long lists of side-effects that outweigh the benefits. Today's modern and informed healthcare consumer understands there are better ways to stay well. If you are still struggling, many natural solutions can help you to get better sleep, while also supporting your natural sleep cycle. You need your sleep to feel good and be healthy, so don’t settle for sleepless nights any longer.