A Matter of Sleep: Not just a Lofty Idea

sleep-blog-post
Source: nbcnews.com

I am sleep deprived as I write this article, so…it goes without saying, that I have some practice, or rather, sleeping, to do.

As a student, it can be quite a challenge to finish assignments before midnight and I confess to burning the proverbial “midnight oil” on more than one occasion. But I am not proud of this- I am aware that it is ageing me and is partially the cause of my recent weight gain. Ok, ok, perhaps another side effect is being dramatic!

Students; however, are not alone in the early morning hours. A nationwide survey called the Sleep Project suggests that 59% of Canadians are not getting enough sleep, with 74% getting less than seven hours per night. The effects of insufficient sleep are both short-term and long-term. Lack of sleep can lead to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, depression, and has also been linked to Alzheimer’s in the long-term. In the short-term, this habit affects your daily cognitive functions, impairs brain activity, weakens the immune system, stresses the heart, causes memory problems and irritability, yawning, and increased hunger.

During sleep, the body repairs your mental and physical health. Sleep increases the level of leptin (the chemical that makes you feel full) in your system and decreases the level of ghrelin (the hunger-stimulating hormone). So, if you are sleep deprived you are more likely to feel hungry and crave higher calorie foods. Sleep deprivation also causes an increase in cortisol production which results in higher levels of insulin after you eat. This promotes the storage of fat and increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Sleep also boosts your immune system by producing protective cytokines and infection-fighting antibodies and cells. These fight off foreign substances like bacteria and viruses. These protective substances also help you sleep, and provide the immune system with more energy to defend against illness.

According to Alzheimers.net, lack of sleep may also lead to Alzheimer’s. Researchers have discovered that during sleep, the brain clears out toxins, “…A waste-draining system they call the “glymphatic system” is ten times more active during sleep than while awake. This nocturnal cleaning system removes proteins called amyloid-beta, which accumulate into the plaques that contribute to Alzheimer’s and dementia.” This research alone, makes me want to go to bed, right this minute.

Apart from late night writing or studying, mobile phones and laptops in the bedroom are further culprits that disrupt the length and quality of our sleep. Our addiction to these devices, mean that we often (ok, always!) have our phone by our bed and check them before sleep or first thing in the morning. The radiation emitted from phone and computer screens, stresses the brain and the blue light that is also emitted, disrupts the production of melatonin, which in turn disrupts the sleep cycle.

So how can we get more sleep? Arianna Huffington advocates “The Sleep Revolution”, and in her book, aptly titled, The Sleep Revolution: Transforming your Life, One Night at a Time, her number one recommendation is to “Take all devices and gently escort them out of the bedroom.” She believes that you need to turn sleep into a “sacrosanct ritual”.

The Sleep Project and Canadian sleep expert, Rachel Morehouse, suggest these practical ideas that will transform a lofty idea into sleep:

  • No Screen time 30 minutes before bed
    Your brain associates blueish-greenish light with daytime, keeping you awake and alert.
  • Turn down your thermostat
    Keep your bedroom cool- 16°C and 19°C.
  • Seek out natural daylight during the day
    Access to natural light at work increases the amount you sleep at night by up to an extra 45 minutes a night.
  • Exercise
    There’s proof that if you exercise 150 minutes a week, you’ll improve your sleep quality by 65%.
  • Make your bed.
    People who make their beds often enjoy a better night’s sleep.
  • The right ritual for rest.
    Your sleep cycle likes a pattern. So, keep your bed and wake-up times the same. And do the same thing before sleep, like reading, to tell your body it’s time to shut down.
  • Make sleep a priority
    Place sleep high on your priority list.

Good night and sweet dreams…


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