Did you know that a lack of sleep puts stress on the body, and if you’re not getting the recommended 7 to 9 hours each night, could contribute to imbalances involving hormones, fertility or weight gain?
ON THE INSIDE
Sleep is an opportunity for your body and brain to recover from the day, replenish energy, and escape the effects of stress. But when you work late, aren’t properly nourished, or you can’t free your mind from worry, sleep suffers, adding stress to your body and contributing to problems with immunity, digestion, fertility, concentration, mood, memory, and more.
When you enter the deep sleep stage, where most energy restoration occurs, a part of your nervous system shuts down, adding to the calm, vegetative state you need for a restful sleep. As the nervous system slows, there is also a decrease in a group of stress hormones called glucocorticoids. Glucocorticoids have multiple functions, but when it comes to getting much needed sleep, you want these stress hormones to be low. When you don’t get enough sleep, however, glucocorticoids increase, meaning your body interprets the situation as stressful. And as we know, stress of any kind is not good for our health.
Overeating and weight gain are often associated with a lack of sleep, due to two hormones – ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin is a hormone that increases hunger, while leptin decreases hunger, causing a feeling of fullness after a meal. When a person sleeps, leptin levels normally rise, telling the brain it has enough energy (aka food) for the night. The result is you don’t need to eat. But if you don’t get enough sleep, the opposite occurs and the brain is convinced it needs to eat, tells your digestive system it needs to eat. Bottom line: sleep deprivation can lead to hunger that you don’t even have.
ON THE OUTSIDE
When aiming for a more restful sleep, focus on calming your nervous system so your body can take a well deserved break. Deep breathing, meditation, body scanning and stretching are excellent ways to relax, and an eye mask, ear plugs and essential oils can help set the stage for calm. But if you’re still feeling unsettled, consider the following:
- Shut down electronics at least 1 hour before bed. You might think that binge watching Netflix at the end of a busy day is a good idea, but don’t underestimate the impact that electronics exposure has on you and your nervous system.
- Never go to bed hangry! Eating a small, healthy snack (with protein and/or fat) before bed will help balance blood sugar and keep you from waking up even hungrier. Also avoid drinking liquids at least 2 hours before bed to avoid unwanted bathroom breaks. Limit caffeine and alcohol.
- Adhere to a sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time so your body is trained to release hormones at the right times.
- Try acupuncture. Traditional Chinese Medicine views sleep issues and insomnia as agitation of the “shen” (spirit/mind), identifying patterns in the body that are causing agitation or imbalances in circulation and temperature.