Sleep & Modern Life
Over the past week or so I’ve been struggling to stay asleep at night, and let me tell you, it sucks. There’s been a lot going on with me recently and my anxiety levels are a bit higher than normal, but I have also been neglecting to take care of myself and to maintain a healthy sleep routine.
Sadly, I am certainly not alone in this struggle. The modern world – hectic pace of life, constant connection to emails and Whatsapp, and our obsession with social media – is having a negative impact on our sleep patterns. Getting an adequate amount of sleep is an important part of physical and mental health. So let’s have a look at how it can affect our health and what we can do to make sure we get enough good quality zzzzs!
Sleep & Health
Sleep has an impact on various areas of health – both physical and mental. Here’s a few of the key ones.
Studies have shown that lack of sleep affects the areas in the brain related to motivation and reward, and can make us want to eat tasty food. When participants were sleep deprived, they noticed increased levels of hunger and would have less self control when it came to food choice and snacking. It also increases ghrelin levels – the hormone which controls our appetite – making us feel much hungrier.
Furthermore, although you probably consume more calories when you haven’t had enough sleep you feel too tired to exercise, and so don’t use up the extra energy you’ve provided for your body. This can also lead to weight gain over an extended period of time. Put it this way: it only takes an extra 3,500 to add a pound of fat to your body. If you are sleep deprived and eat the average extra 300 calories more than a well rested person, within a couple of weeks you could have gained a pound of weight!
Poor quality or lack of sleep can have a profound effect on our hormones. First of all, your fat cells’ ability to react correctly to insulin decreases by 30%. This in turn can cause weight gain and even diabetes. In a study published by University of Chicago Medicine, it was discovered that “fat cells need sleep to function properly”, and that sleep should be used alongside diet and exercise as ways to treat diabetes.
Chronic sleep loss can also impair glucose metabolism which again can lead to weight gain and a risk of diabetes.
Finally, sleep deprivation puts your body under significant stress, causing it to release more cortisol (stress hormone). Long term levels of cortisol in your blood can lead to anxiety and other health concerns.
According to the Sleep Foundation, chronic lack of sleep can impair the immune system. People who don’t get enough sleep have been shown to be more susceptible to contracting colds. During sleep, your immune system releases proteins called cytokines, these are what your body uses in the fight against infection. Sleep deprivation leads to a decrease in the production of cytokines. It also decreases the production of infection-fighting antibodies.
Sleep & The Brain
Studies have shown that not only does lack of sleep impair attention and working memory, “but it also affects other functions, such as long-term memory and decision-making”. In other words, getting an adequate amount of sleep is important for our brains to do their job. And in turn for us to lead an enjoyable life!
Not only does sleep have an effect on memory and learning, but it also affects our emotional responses and understanding of social cues. Sleep restriction and disturbance was linked to emotional volatility – in other words, mood swings. It both increased negative feelings towards problems, and blunted positive reactions towards events. Furthermore, lack of sleep leads people to struggle to recognise emotional responses in others. According to a study published in the National Institute of Health “there was a marked and significant blunting in the recognition of Angry and Happy [emotions]”. And this was particularly noticeable in women.
According to Harvard Health, Sleep problems are particularly common in patients with anxiety and depression. It was often thought that sleep problems were symptoms of mental health disorders, but evidence now suggests that “sleep problems may raise risk for, and even directly contribute to, the development of some psychiatric disorders”. People with anxiety and depression are likely to suffer from insomnia, which in turn will have a further negative effect on their mental health. In this way, sleep deprivation is both a symptom and a cause of poor mental health.
8 Tips For Better Sleep Hygiene
1) Prep Your Bedroom
Turn your bedroom into the perfect sleeping place. A quiet, dark and cool room is best to promote sleep. Invest in a blackout curtain. Try using earplugs or a white noise machine to block out external noises that might be disturbing. Make sure the room is well ventilated.
2) Start a Sleep Routine
Teach your mind and body how to switch off at night by practicing a sleep routine. Try to always go to sleep at the same time every night and follow the same steps when you get ready for bed.
3) Warm Bath Before Bed
Have a warm bath filled with relaxing scents such as lavender and vanilla before bed. The rise and fall of your body temperature will help you to become drowsy and the scents will promote relaxation.
4) Read a Good Book
A 2009 study conducted by the University of Exeter showed that reading a book significantly lowered stress levels. It’s a relaxing and restful activity that allows you to prepare your mind for sleep, unlike TV and electronics.
5) Cut Down on TV & Remove Electronics
The blue light emitted by the television can disrupt melatonin production, which is responsible for helping you feel sleepy at night.
Mobile phones and tablets can have a similar effect on the brain, and studies have shown that compulsively checking social media has a negative impact on sleep.
Try to keep all electronics out of the bedroom and stop watching TV at least an hour before bed.
6) Lavender Oil
According to a study at Southampton University, lavender can increase your sleep quality by 20%. Lavender helps relax and calm agitation. It has been shown to have an effect on GABA neurotransmission, which in turn helps calm anxiety and depression. Try putting a few drops of oil on your pillow at night, or using an oil burner in your room before going to bed.
The National Sleep Foundation claim: “People sleep significantly better and feel more alert during the day if they get at least 150 minutes of exercise a week”. Moderate aerobic exercise seems to have the best impact on sleep quality, and it has an effect on both short term and long term sleeping patterns. Plus, exercise is great for your physical and mental health!
If you are going to bed with a busy or worried brain you’re going to struggle with falling asleep, or staying asleep. Try including some meditation or a mindfulness exercise into your sleep routine.
According to Harvard Health, mindfulness exercises can elicit a relaxation reaction which helps improve your sleep.
Do you ever struggle with insomnia? What are your tips for falling asleep, or getting a good night’s sleep? Let me know 🙂
Start getting into the meditation habit by downloading my 5-minute, instant calm meditation…
Sign up by popping your details into the box below.
You’ll then get a confirmation email (to make sure you’re definitely on the list) and once you click confirm, you’ll get instant access to the audio file. Download it and listen wherever you are, whenever you need to calm down.