Modern life has increased time demands that have decreased time for self-care. Many people are surviving on deficient amounts of sleep due to their hectic lifestyles. Essential functions occur during high quality sleep that allows us to awaken the next day primed to be productive and present. Numerous studies have shown that fatigue and insufficient sleep are detrimental to performance and is potentially dangerous. Short-term, this will decrease your ability to perform physically and mentally. Long-term you may be decreasing the effectiveness of your immune system and increasing your risk of chronic disease.
Sleep deprivation (less than 7 hours/night) can cause:
- increases rate of perceived exertion
- shortness of breath
- decreased insulin sensitivity
- increased risk of overeating (studies show that during sleep deprivation people are more likely to eat 200-300 calories more than those who receives adequate sleep)
There are multiple stages of sleep, however, the third stage of sleep known as slow-wave sleep, is thought to be the most restorative stage of sleeping. This stage typically occurs during deep, uninterrupted sleep. If you aren’t sleeping the recommended 7-9 hours, you may not be getting enough slow-wave sleep either.
Deep sleep (slow wave):
- increases our ability to learn new information
- facilitates long-term memory storage
- improves mood and decreases feeling of loneliness
- time when 95% of growth hormone is produced (ideal for muscle growth)
- time when the glymphatic system clears away metabolic waste (some of which are known as beta amyloid plaques. The accumulation of beta amyloid plaques can also cause poor sleep quality, which then causes a vicious cycle in which more plaques accumulate.) This accumulation has been strongly linked to the development of dementia.
- time when the glymphatic system facilitates the distribution of essential nutrients such as glucose, lipids, and amino acids
Research has shown that we lack the ability to “catch up” on sleep. Those of you who attempt to utilize the weekend to catch up on sleep are doing yourself a disservice. Extended periods of sleep on the weekend does not undo the impact of weekly sleep deprivation.
Ways to increase sleep quality:
- Stick to a routine (Go to bed and wake up at similar times each day)
- Keep your sleep environment dark, cool and quiet (Use earplugs and/or shades if need be. Some people prefer white noise from a machine or fan)
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol and other stimulants 4-6 hours before bedtime (it is a common misconception that alcohol increases sleep quality, however, it actually decreases the quality of sleep)
- Only use your bedroom for sleep
- Get up if you are tossing and turning
- Avoid naps in excess of 45 minutes
- Avoid hot showers/baths right before bedtime
- Avoid screen time (tv/cell phone/tablet/computer) before bed
- Eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly
- Keep a “worry list” beside your bed to write down anything you are afraid you might forget that you need to remember for another day. This may reduce anxiety and allow you to fall asleep.
There are no “magic pills” that will enable high quality sleep. Like alcohol, most sleep medications reduce quality of sleep and can become addictive. Supplements such as melatonin and valerian root have also shown varying degrees of effectiveness in test subjects (possible placebo effect). There is no substitution for high-quality natural sleep. Concentrate on establishing a healthy routine and create an environment conducive to sleep if you wish to see your performance improve and your risk of chronic disease drop.