Sleep. Something I love to do, yet seem to have a difficult time making myself do before 9:30pm. When my alarm clock goes off at 4am, suddenly, I realize that going to bed at 11:30pm wasn’t such a bright idea. Groan. People think I have a fascination with zombies (I don’t, it’s just one really terrible story) but if I stumble in to work feeling like one, I can see why I’d continue to perpetuate this fallacy. That, and I really hate it when people say, “oh gosh, you look tired!” and my inner self wants to turn into the Hulk and smash something at the drop of a hat.
SO! I decided to learn more about the benefits of sleep and lucky me, I was able to write up an article for Guided Synergy, a publication committed to serving readers with the most comprehensive resource guide for holistic health and healing for the body, mind & soul.
Desperate for Dreaming
Written for and Published July 20, 2011 by Guided Synergy
4 Ways to enhance your quality of sleep
It’s morning, the alarm clock goes off angrily, and the first thought that crosses your mind is, “Mom, just 10 more minutes!” Then you realize that no one is there to drag you off to school. It’s just you and your responsibilities – work, family and life. You struggle through the morning, clutching your coffee and scowling at those bright-eyed and bushy-tailed “morning people” who bounce through the day with more energy than that annoying battery bunny.
What constitutes a lack of sleep?
Sleep is so much more than that black space between lights out and shower time. It’s the time when we recharge our batteries and affects such important functions as memory processing, immune function, cell growth and repair. Any condition in which your sleep doesn’t follow the typical four-stage sleep-phase cycle, or doesn’t stay in one or more cycles for long enough, is considered disrupted or lack of sleep. Ninety-five per cent of people suffering from a sleep “disorder” remain undiagnosed and untreated. Although you may sleep just as much as you did when you were younger, with age your body likely doesn’t get the same quality of sleep, and as a result, fatigue and daytime drowsiness set in.
Effects of sleep deprivation
The body responds and adapts incredibly well to sleep deprivation – but only for so long. Serious side effects manifest in the form of physical and mental impairments: poor information processing, stress management, diminished immune system and mood disorders.
As your brain’s ability to function quickly deteriorates, you may find yourself working harder because you’re having difficulty processing information and your memory is impaired. Combine this with poor problem-solving abilities and you’re likely going to start experiencing decreased productivity at work. Now, projects that may have needed only 45 minutes to complete, drag out to a two-hour ordeal. Get ready for yet another late night at the office.
The body can also develop the inability to manage stress-related hormones like epinephrine, causing us to become irritable and frustrated with even the most minor annoyances. Studies show that extreme sleep deprivation can lead to a seemingly psychotic state of paranoia and hallucinations in otherwise healthy people, and disrupted sleep can also trigger episodes of mania (agitation and hyperactivity) in people with manic depression. Sound familiar? No doubt we can all think of a few people who would benefit from more sleep.
But if possible psychosis isn’t enough to inspire you to improve your sleep habits, there’s always the myriad effects sleep deprivation has on the physical body. A good measure of how sleep deprived you are is how difficult it is to control your weight or increase muscle growth. Lack of quality sleep causes the body’s levels of leptin (a protein hormone regulating energy intake and expenditure) to fall and ghrelin levels (a hormone that stimulates hunger) to increase. This means you end up feeling hungrier without really feeling satisfied by what you eat, causing you to eat more and, consequently, gain weight. During sleep, the body enters an “anabolic” state, a time of repair, rebuilding and rejuvenation, which facilitates muscle growth and supports the immune system. Other related health issues are heart disease, hypertension and tremors.
Improving the quality of your sleep
The causes of sleep deprivation are varied, so it can be hard to identify exactly what is disrupting your sleep, but you can narrow it down and start improving your sleep with some simple solutions:
* Set a sleep schedule. Go to bed and get up at the same time, whether it’s a workday or a weekend. This allows your body the time it needs to become accustomed to established sleep and wake patterns and begin the process of body repair and maintenance.
* Remove distractions from the bedroom. Associating your bed with activities other than sleeping, such as reading, watching TV or surfing the Net, subconsciously triggers your mind to stay awake to process information. Establishing a wind-down routine such as taking a warm shower, stretching or meditating will help in the stress relief process. Sleep lightly? Consider getting blackout blinds to limit disruptions such as traffic lights or early morning sunshine. Light sources (digital clocks, computer screens, etc.) impair the body’s ability to produce melatonin, a natural hormone that helps stimulate sleep.
* Keep a sleep diary. Begin recording the specific good and bad nights of sleep you experience. Some of the daily details you can include are medications, stressful situations, food intake (does caffeine after a certain time have an effect? How about alcohol?), exercise or activity (exercise assists in sleep, but only after you establish some consistency with your exercise routine).
The good news is that poor sleep is typically due to lifestyle choices and habits that we’ve developed over time. Change those lifestyle habits and there’s a good chance you’ll start sleeping soundly at night and stop feeling stressed during the day. You might even become known as a “morning person”!
Namaste, and happy dreaming! Questions, comments, or want to hear the zombie story? (That might take some extra bribery though). Or maybe you’d like to know more about how sleep and muscle building / fat loss are closely related – you keener! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org – we’re here to help!