Sleep. Your life depends on it.

I’ve noticed a trend in many of my patients:  There is a desire to eke out every bit of the day, and that means staying up late.  Just one more episode of the latest binge.  A little more quiet time without the kids.  A bit more time with their spouse or friends.

But what this means is that the alarm still goes off at the same time the next morning and work starts at the same time regardless.  What gives is sleep.  

Americans are sleeping on average 40% less than they did in the 1940’s.  And 40% are getting 6 hours or less a night.  What suffers with lack of sleep? Your health and how you function both at work and at home. 

What gives when you’re sleep deprived?

  • Weight.  There is a clear connection to weight gain and lack of sleep.
  • High blood pressure.  This is actually the number one cause of death in the world, and too little sleep is a contributor to developing elevated blood pressure.
  • Heart disease.  Nearly 2/3’s of us in the US will die of a heart attack or stroke.  One step towards healthier arteries?  Sleep.
  • Diabetes and insulin resistance.   Lack of sleep worsens our metabolism and contributes to the development of pre-diabetes and diabetes.
  • Cognitive function.  This is apparent in work and school performance.  But, in one recent study, that lack of sleep was shown to increase your risk of Alzheimer’s dementia. 
  • Mood. Most of us have experienced the irritability that comes with a poor night’s sleep.  But is also increases the risk of depression and anxiety.  So unfortunately, anxiety can keep you up and lack of sleep can cause anxiety.
  • Immune system.  This is weakened with lack of sleep, making you more vulnerable to infections, including colds and flu, as well as other more serious infections.
  • Ability to drive.  Hand-eye coordination suffers with lack of sleep and can be as dangerous as driving drunk.
  • Energy.  Fatigue increases with lack of sleep.
  • Libido and fertility.

All of this adds up to not just misery, but to a shortened life expectancy.

So how much sleep do you need?  That depends on your age and how sleep deprived you are.  For most adults, we need between 7 and 9 hours a night.

The most common complaint that patients come to me with is fatigue and the first place to start is looking at their sleep, both for quantity and quality.  Worry and interrupted sleep are 2 big reasons that I see that effect sleep, besides not making enough time for sleep a priority.

Here’s a start to improving the quantity and quality of sleep:

  • Make sure that you give yourself enough time in bed to get enough sleep.  Include in that time space to wind down and do your night time rituals.  This is key and may take some change in your habits.
  • Decrease interruptions.  These often come from a full bladder, a snoring or moving spouse, or pets or children in bed.  Limit the amount of fluid that you drink after dinner so that you are less likely to have to get up to pee.  Put children in their own bed and kick pets out of your bed.  Sometimes mattresses that don’t translate motion across them can be helpful.
  • Make sure that your bed is comfortable and that your bedroom is dark, quiet, and cool.
  • Limit caffeine during the day.  Yes, it can help you make it through with less sleep, but caffeine, with a half life of 6-7 hours, for most of us hangs out in our systems.  This means that you have 1/4 of the caffeine that you had for the morning at bedtime, and might be just enough to add to being awake in the middle of the night.
  • Sleep at regular times, going to bed and getting up at the same time each day.  Our bodies crave regularity and habit.  Focusing on being as consistent as possible, even on the weekends, can go a long way to improving sleep.  Staying up late over the weekend is a big contributor to feeling like Mondays are, well, Mondays.  This is known as social jet lag and takes a couple of days to recover from.
  • Manage your anxiety.  Relaxation recordings, yoga nidra, hypnosis, mediation, and personal biofeedback (like HeartMath) are just some of the ways to help you wind down and go to sleep.
  • Limit alcohol.  Alcohol may help you fall asleep, but it often is a big contributor to awakening in the middle of the night.  Try a period of not drinking, I suggest 3-4 weeks, and see how this effects your sleep.

If you would like to know more about how the new medicine of integrative and functional medicine can help you to optimize your health, schedule a free 15 minute discovery phone call with me.

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