The Connection Between Sleep and Health

sleepWe’re taking a break from the nutrition-related posts today to talk about an element of health and wellness that is often overlooked or just plain ignored: sleep!

Although we’ve all heard of “8” being the magic sleep number, your ideal sleep time may fall anywhere between 7 to 9 hours. Unfortunately as we all know too well, there are many life distractions that make it less likely for us to meet our sleep needs: work, family life, household chores, and other priorities (ahem, like your next Netflix binge). To top it all off, even when we do make it to bed at a decent time, some of us may have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep due to stress or sleep disorders. According the National Sleep Foundation, 67 percent of Americans are sleep-deprived or have sleep disorders. That means that 2/3 of the people in your office right now are wishing for more sleep (maybe even you?)

So what’s the big deal with sleep anyway? With a little coffee, most people get by just fine, right? Not exactly… especially not in the long term. Among the many conditions that inadequate sleep time and quality has been linked to are weight gain, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. How? Lack of sleep can increase ghrelin levels, which are the hormones that stimulate appetite. Research is also being done on how sleep deprivation can increase our intake of unhealthy foods by changing our brain activity. And, too little sleep disrupts circadian rhythms which may increase the risk of insulin resistance (in turn increasing the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes).

The moral of this story is that sleep is important to our health. The risks mentioned above are serious, but even in the short term, many of us have noticed how lack of sleep affects us: less focus, moodiness, memory issues, the list goes on. And you may already know this! Most of us do, and we are really trying to get more sleep. But life gets in the way, and we understand that too. Here are some steps you can take to improve your sleep:

  • Go to bed at the same time each night and rise at the same time each morning.This helps to regulate your body’s clock and could help you fall asleep and stay asleep for the night.
  • Avoid caffeine after noon. It can linger in the body for hours, preventing sleep. If you need an afternoon pick me up, take a quick 10-minute walk, have a balanced snack, or drink a glass of cold water (with citrus and/or mint for an extra boost).
  • Limit alcohol and large meals, especially late in the evenings, since they can cause you to wake in the middle of the night.
  • Exercise daily. Studies show that regular exercisers report getting better sleep.
  • Make your bedroom a tech-free zone. Keep phones, tablets, and all other gadgets in another room. If you use your phone as an alarm clock, get an alarm clock instead!
  • Wind down before bed. Spend the hour before going to bed doing a calming activity, like reading, journaling, taking a bath, or listening to quiet music. If you find that watchingTV or being on your phone keeps you awake, avoid these activities right before bed.
  • If you can’t sleep, get up and do a quiet activity in another room for 20-30 minutes.

If you are constantly struggling with sleepless nights, it would be best to speak to your physician and/or a sleep professional to help you find the underlying source.


References:
National Sleep Foundation, How Much Sleep Do We Really Need? and Annual Sleep in America Poll
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