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Health Risks of Poor Sleep

Quality sleep is one of the best things you can do from a self care perspective but it’s also one of the areas that is most likely to be neglected.

The recommended amount of shut eye is eight hours a night (preferably more) but lots of us are falling far short of this and it’s having a massive impact on almost every aspect of wellbeing, from health to weight. You can live healthily in every other area of your life but unfortunately, lack of sleep can contribute to an increase in poor health.

Here’s a lack at why getting enough sleep is so crucial for your health and wellbeing, and why diet alone cannot undo the effects of not sleeping well.

Sleep Duration Versus Sleep Quality

Sleep quality refers to how well we sleep and is a completely different prospect to how long we sleep. It’s pretty easy to tell how long you sleep but the quality of it is a bit harder to determine.

Poor sleep quality means that you’re not sleeping in line with your circadian rhythm or going through all of the important sleep phases (particularly with REM sleep).

Some of the signs that your sleep quality isn’t as good as it could be include:

• Waking up during the night

• Not waking up naturally e.g. you have to be abruptly awoken by your alarm clock most mornings

If you have a Fitbit or other health tracker you can delve deep into your sleep quality and length. This is a great way to see patterns and alter your bedtime routine to see changes.

Sleep and Health

What exactly does your body experience when you don’t get enough sleep?

  • Lower immunity. If you seem to get every cough and cold going, your sleep habits may be to blame. In one study, researchers deliberately exposed people to the common cold virus to see how likely they were to go onto develop a cold. Participants who had been sleeping for less than 7 hours per night had lower immunity and were almost 3 times more likely to be impacted. Even a small sleep debt has been linked to lower immunity.

  • Higher risk of heart disease and stroke. Studies have looked at the link between lack of sleep and developing heart disease and stroke and it’s a startling connection. Getting less than 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night means a higher chance of developing Coronary Heart Disease or having a stroke - and dying from it.

  • Higher risk of diabetes. A sleep debt can pave the way for developing Type 2 diabetes. In this study, just a week of not sleeping well reduced insulin sensitivity and raised concerns about whether consistently sleeping badly might open the door to developing health issues linked to insulin resistance.

  • Increased inflammation. Inflammation is now linked to lots of different health problems and can be increased by sleep loss.

Sleep and Cognition

You’ve no doubt heard that eating the right foods can boost your brain health but it’s not just diet can affect your memory and concentration.

Sleep is an important factor too, and lack of sleep has been shown to impair them. In fact, one study has suggested that even moderate sleep issues can be as damaging as alcohol in affecting performance.

The deeper stages of sleep are particularly vital when it comes to clear thinking, focus, memory and learning. This is when your brain does a lot of its mental ‘sorting’, such as filtering out information that isn’t really needed right now.

Sleep and Weight Gain

If you don’t sleep well, it can be a lot harder to maintain a healthy weight. The main problem? Your metabolism is directly affected. Laboratory studies have clearly shown that sleep deprivation can alter the glucose metabolism and hormones involved in regulating metabolism, that is, decreased leptin levels and increased ghrelin levels. Leptin helps to keep your appetite in check while ghrelin does the opposite letting you know when you are hungry and need to refuel.

Ideally, you want to have more leptin and less ghrelin but not getting enough sleep throws this balance out and effectively switches them around. This means you’re a lot more likely to overeat, even when you’re technically full. You will find it harder to shift stubborn fat on your stomach, as sleep deprivation encourages fat to build up in this area in particular. One study in particular highlighted this fact. Researchers found that people in the restricted sleep group had up to a 9% increase in belly fat and an 11% increase in unhealthy belly visceral fat, which surrounds the organs deep inside the belly and has been strongly linked to heart disease and other conditions like Alzheimer's disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.

How can you improve your sleep quality?

Some of the things you can do to try to get better quality sleep each night include:

• Making your room as dark as possible to support your circadian rhythm. Pitch black (or as close to it as you can get) is best.

• Setting a bedtime routine that involves going to bed at the same time every night and getting up at a specific time each morning.

• Switching off electronic devices at least an hour before bed (even your phone!) to reduce the amount of ‘blue light’ you’re exposed to just before bedtime. This ‘blue light’ means your body finds it harder to produce enough of the sleep hormone, melatonin, to help you sleep well.

• Drink a herbal tea before bed. A warm or perhaps room temp herbal infusion or tea before bed such as Chamomile, Skullcap, Passionflower, Lavender or Kava. For ongoing insomnia Herbal Tinctures are a stronger substitute for teas.

If you haven’t been seeing sleep as a key part of your wellness routine, it’s definitely time to change that. How well do you sleep?

Comment below I’d love to know more about your situation.

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