I get it. There’s a lot in the world right now that can get between you and a good night’s sleep. The political turmoil alone is enough to turn us all into fearful insomniacs.
As if that’s not enough, you may be kept awake by concerns about your finances, job, health, or relationships. You may be a shift worker, a college student, or a person with a sleep disorder. Anxiety, pain, and depression can add to, or even eclipse, all these things.
If you are worried about your health, one of the most proactive and immediately impactful things you can do is to make sure you’re getting enough sleep.
You may be thinking that sounds too simple to be a big deal, but it’s likely you’re underestimating the importance of sleep to your bodily functions. Sleep has a bigger impact on your life than how tired you feel the next day.
What are the risks of being chronically sleep-deprived?
I started looking into sleep when, years into being a night-shift worker, I started developing health problems that I suspected were related to sleep deprivation and off-rhythm sleep. Since my daytime sleep quality didn’t seem equal to that of night-time sleepers, I became passionate about learning as much as I could.
Sleep deprivation can cause long-term effects that build up over time and can include high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, heart attack, stroke, and even obesity. What? Yes, even your weight can be influenced by the amount of sleep you get over the long term.
Studies show that people who experience chronic insomnia, get fewer hours of sleep per night, or have problems with long-term sleep deprivation are more likely to develop high blood pressure that can lead to heart disease.
Not getting enough sleep reduces leptin which is one of the factors responsible for triggering satiety. While leptin goes down, ghrelin goes up. Guess what ghrelin does? That’s right; it increases appetite.
Additionally, chronic sleep deprivation impairs the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar which can lead to decreased insulin sensitivity as well as diabetes.
Sleep deprivation and depression can feel like a chicken-or-the-egg situation. Did your depression create your sleep issues? Or do your sleep issues contribute an unknown amount to your depression? Can both things be true?
Sleep, or the lack thereof, contributes significantly to your mood as well as the quality of your brain function. Although acute lack of sleep can certainly be responsible for feelings of depression, chronically fragmented and disturbed sleep patterns may well be a significant contributor to depression and other mood disorders.
Heart Attack and Stroke
Perhaps the most frightening of these risks are the specters of heart attack and stroke. Sleep disturbances and excessive wakefulness have been shown to increase the risk of heart disease and heart attack. If you are dependent on alcohol, the risks are even greater.
Those with sleep apnea problems are at greater risk of a stroke which is the second leading cause of death in all the world. The worse the sleep apnea, the worse the risk.
Weight Gain and Out-of-Control Appetite
Sleep deprivation causes endocannabinoid levels to rise which, in turn, causes you to feel hungrier and more inclined to keep eating for pleasure rather than a need for satiety. Your ability to say no to snacks and junk food is impaired.
You may have noticed in your own life that when you are tired, you are prone to mindless eating.
Staying well-rested gives you increased ability to say no to things you know are bad for you and to eat more appropriate amounts of food.
Increased Risk of Fatty Liver Disease
Of particular concern to night-shift workers is the increased risk of fatty liver disease. Sleep that goes against the natural circadian rhythm is not only less restful but may cause excess fat production in the liver as well as other metabolic disorders.
As you can see, there are many significant risks that go along with chronic sleep deprivation and off-rhythm sleep. That may sound scary and disheartening, but now it’s a monster you know.
There’s a lot of power in recognizing you have a problem. While chronic sleep problems won’t be resolved overnight, you can take steps every day to improve relations with your bed. Here are a few suggestions to get you well on your way:
- develop a nightly ritual
- find supplements to help
- discover teas that make you sleepy
- keep your sleep/rise schedule the same every day
- evaluate your bed and bedding
- sleep-enable your bedroom
Future articles will go over these suggestions (and more) in detail. There’s still hope for you yet. Why not pick the easiest thing and get started?