Although sleep is a necessary biological function, it can be hard to get a full seven to nine hours every night. Stress, anxiety, medications, and certain medical conditions can all interfere with your ability to fall and stay asleep. No matter the cause, you can use different types of therapies while you improve your sleep hygiene to give yourself a better chance of getting a good night’s sleep.
Effects of Sleep Deprivation
Sleep deprivation, which is generally accepted as sleeping less than seven hours per night, reaches into all parts of your life from appetite to the immune system. Some changes that take place during sleepless nights include:
● Increased Appetite: Sleep deprivation causes an increase in hunger hormones with a simultaneous decrease in satiety hormones. The reward center of the brain also gets an increased “hit” from fat and sugar when you’re sleep deprived, making you more likely to reach for unhealthy foods.
● Depressed Immune System: When sleep deprived, you’re more likely to get sick because, without a full night’s sleep, the immune system doesn’t have time to fight off infection or recharge itself.
● Emotional Changes: Without enough sleep, the area of the brain that processes emotions experiences increased sensitivity to negative thoughts. At the same time, the area of the brain that applies reasoning and logic to those emotions becomes less active. The less sleep you get the pronounced the emotional changes become, which can lead to increased levels of stress, irritability, anxiety, and depression.
How to Get Better Sleep
Many, if not all, effects of sleep deprivation can be reversed once you start to get adequate rest. And, there are many ways to improve your sleep without the use of prescription or over-the-counter medications. For some, relief can come from treating an underlying sleep disorder or through various forms of therapy like:
● Cognitive behavioral therapy
● Essential oils
● Light therapy
Everyone can benefit from developing good sleep hygiene. (Sleep hygiene includes all the habits and behaviors that affect sleep.) A few ways to improve your sleep hygiene include:
● Establishing a Regular Bedtime Routine: A bedtime routine will help your brain know when to start the release of sleep hormones. It’s also a time to relieve stress and tension. Meditation, yoga, or reading a book can all help reduce mental and physical stress before bed.
● Go to Bed on Time: A consistent bedtime helps your body follow a regular pattern, strengthening your response to sleep hormones. Try to keep your sleep schedule on the weekends to prevent sleep debt on Monday morning.
● Supportive Sleep Environment: Everything from light levels to your mattress influences your ability to sleep. Dim the lights at night, keep the bedroom temperature between 60 to 68, and block out as much sound as possible. Those with allergies may consider an air purifier to improve sleep quality and alertness.
● Limit Light and Screen Time: In part, your sleep-wake schedule is controlled by light exposure. The bright light from televisions and smartphones can suppress sleep hormones. Bright overhead lights can have the same effect. Try to reduce evening light levels and turn off your screens two to three hours before bed.
● Eat Healthy and Smart: Well-balanced meals eaten at regular intervals helps your body time the release of sleep hormones. If you need a late night snack, try to eat foods like bananas, almonds, and yogurt that have nutrients used in the production of sleep hormones.
Adequate sleep contributes to your overall physical, mental, and emotional health. With the right treatments and good sleep hygiene, you’ll be on your way to feeling better mentally and physically.
About the author, Mary Lee:
Mary Lee is a researcher for the sleep science hub Tuck.com. She specializes in sleep’s role in mental and physical health and wellness. Mary lives in Olympia, Washington and shares her full-sized bed with a very noisy cat.
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