Why is Sleep Important?
Believe it or not, sleep plays a crucial role in your overall health. Getting the right amount of sleep can improve your mental and physical health, as well as your overall quality of life.
When you sleep, your body works to support healthy brain function and maintain your physical health. For children and teenagers, sleep is vital to support growth and development. A lack of sleep can have negative effects on your health in a variety of ways. It can affect how well you think, react, work, get along with others and learn.
Getting enough good-quality sleep will improve your overall function through the day. If you are losing even 1 to 2 hours of sleep a night, after a few nights your body will begin to function as if you have not slept in the past couple of days.
Sleep deficiency is not just harmful on a personal level; it can also cause large-scale damage. Sleep deficiency has been linked to car accidents, among other potential dangerous situations.
Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to increased risk of heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, stroke, and kidney disease. In fact, one study found that sleep deprived children increased their risk of developing obesity by 89%, while adults’ risk increases 55%.
Sleep helps maintain healthy balance of the major hunger hormones, ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin is released to trigger hunger, while leptin is released to signal the sensation of fullness. Without enough sleep, ghrelin levels rise, while leptin levels fall, meaning that you will feel hungrier when you lack sleep versus being well-rested.
Immune system function is affected by sleep as well. Without proper amounts of sleep, the body will find it more difficult to fight infections.
Some studies show that a lack of sleep can alter brain activity in particular areas. Sleep is important for staying attentive and learning.
Those who are sleep deprived showed more trouble with decision-making, problem solving, controlling emotions and behavior, as well as coping with change. Additionally, sleep deprivation has been linked to risk-taking behavior, depression, and suicide.
Sleep Deprivation and Sleep Deficiency
Sleep deprivation can occur when you don’t get enough sleep, but it is broader than just that. Sleep deprivation can also occur when you sleep at the wrong time of day, have a sleep disorder, do not sleep well, or sleep at times that are not ideal.
In order to get why sleep deficiency is so important, we need to understand how the sleep cycle works.
There are two main types of sleep, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep.
Non-REM sleep includes what is known as slow wave sleep, also known as deep sleep. During REM sleep is typically when we dream. Each night, you go through three to five cycles of non-REM and REM sleep. How well you function each day is driven by not only how much total sleep you get, but also if you are getting enough of each type.
Each of us has a 24-hour body clock, known as the circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm controls your sleep and wake cycles each day. This rhythm affects every single cell in the body, and how they work.
If you are not getting enough sleep, or are sleeping at incorrect times, it is very likely your energy levels will be great the following day.
There are also certain chemicals that play a role in how well you sleep. Cortisol is the body’s main stress hormone, and is highest in the morning, aiding in waking us up in the morning. Melatonin, on the other hand, rises at night, and helps us get to sleep.
The goal is to find this proper balance between them. When they are thrown off their regular cycles, we will not get the best sleep possible.
What can Disrupt Your Sleep?
There are a variety of factors that can negatively impact your sleeping habits. Some health conditions include:
- Anxiety and Depression
- Bladder problems
- Food Sensitivities
- Menopausal Symptoms
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea
- Restless Leg Syndrome
- Periodic Limb Movement Disorder
- Nocturnal Leg Cramps
Additionally, there are other sleep disruptors that impact us on a daily basis, including:
- Blue Light (TVs, Laptops, Smart Phones)
- Inconsistent sleep times
- Evening workouts
Strategies for Improving Sleep Hygiene
There are a variety of lifestyle modifications you can make to improve your sleep quality and quantity. Below are some strategies you can employ at home:
- Finish your last meal at least 3 hours prior to bedtime.
- Ideally you should be in bed by 10:00 or 10:30 PM. If you are going to be much later than that, you can start by trying to go bed 15 minutes earlier each night until you can get to sleep at that time. This helps normalize our circadian rhythms.
- Stop all electronic activity at least 1 hour prior to bedtime.
- Install a blue-light filter on all your electronic devices.
- Invest in a pair of blue-light filtering glasses.
- Crack a window at night to get some fresh air in the room. If it is too cold, try to get a warmer blanket. Alternatively, during the summer, try to keep the sleeping room temperature between 66 degrees and 68 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the optimal range for your best sleep.
- Stop drinking caffeine past 2 PM. If you can get through days without caffeine at all, even better!
- Turn off all night lights.
- Block any external sources of light, whether it be from street lights or a neighbor’s house.
- If someone snores or is a mouth-breather, it would be wise to consult a dentist, as it leads to poor sleep.
- Stay away from multivitamins and other stimulating supplements late at night, as they can keep you up.
- Try to keep your wake and sleep times on the weekends consistent with your weekdays. This is much easier said than done and takes a lot of practice.
- Cutting back on alcohol can help improve your sleep quality. Alcohol can disrupt deep sleep (your REM cycle), and you may wake up in the middle of the night as a result.
Consider certain supplements to improve you sleep patterns.
Valerian has demonstrated sedative effects due to its ability to induce the release of GABA from brain tissue. This improves sleep quality and help you fall asleep. Valerian is commonly used, more so in Europe and Asia, as a natural treatment for anxiety, depression, and even menopause.
Passionflower (Dr. Kali’s favorite!) binds to the same receptors as benzodiazepine, causing anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) effects without impairing motor skills or memory. It also improves sleep quality. To this point, it seems passionflower may be more effective when consumed as a tea before bedtime compared to a supplement.
Magnesium can be used to help with sleep disturbances as well. Magnesium is known as “the relaxation mineral.” It is also plays a role in over 600 bodily reactions. Some of those reactions include enhancing sleep quality and promoting relaxation. These include regulating the production and melatonin, and increasing brain levels of GABA.
5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan) is a precursor to serotonin, which is then used to create melatonin, the hormone that helps us fall to sleep. 5-HTP supports healthy melatonin production during the night, helping us stay asleep.
Ashwaganda is an adaptogenic herb known to promote relaxation and a healthy stress response. Adaptogens help the body adapt to physical and environmental stressors we come into contact with every day.
Lemon Balm can improve sleep quality and quantity by producing a calming sensation using the inhibitory action of GABA. This works similar to benzodiazepine but without the side effects.
Lavender can promote calming sensations and aid with sleep. Its most high-profile use is for reducing stress and anxiety. A 2012 study found that lavender oil can be helpful for those suffering from anxiety and depression. It has also been found to be particularly helpful in those suffering from insomnia, particularly females. Another study found that using lavender as an aromatherapy could be as effective as conventional sleep medications with fewer side effects.
Sleep plays a major role in your overall health. It is just as important as staying active, monitoring stress, and eating properly. However, sometimes we have trouble falling asleep or fail to wake up feeling rested. If we are not getting quality restful sleep, it can be detrimental to our health going forward. Adopting some of the practices outlined above will help you improve your sleep hygiene overall. If you are still having trouble, it could be worth trying some of the supplements listed above and figuring out which one works for you.
Bottom line, we have to take our sleep seriously. Sleep plays a crucial role in maintaining our overall health. If we take the time to get the right amount of sleep at the right time of the day, we can optimize our function and be at our best more often.
Though based in research, personal, and clinical experience, the opinions in this article should not be taken as medical advice. The information is designed for educational purposes only and is not designed to diagnose, treat, or cure disease. Botanical medicine and nutraceuticals should be treated with the same caution and care as pharmaceuticals, as both have the potential for strong, potentially adverse effects and allergic reactions. Please consult a trained, licensed health care practitioner before proceeding. Neither the publisher nor the author takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person reading or following the information in this book. All readers, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition or supplement program.