How Disrupted Sleep Impacts our Bodies
Who doesn’t love a good night’s sleep? For me, there is nothing better than waking up in the morning to realize that I slept through the WHOLE night! No tossing and turning, no checking the clock, no anxiety dreams that wake me up, no bathroom visits, no snoring partner, and no counting sheep! Eight hours of solid sleep! After a night like this, I generally wake up feeling energized, more optimistic and have a feeling of calm as I start my day. Come to find out, there is good reason for this - quality sleep is associated with less depression, decreased anxiety, improved energy and clearer thinking. There are so many amazing things that happen in our bodies when we are asleep! Many of these processes can only happen when we are asleep and are responsible for keeping our bodies running properly, allowing our brains to learn and create, and supporting our immune systems so we remain healthy!
Side Effects of Sleep Deficiency
Unfortunately, the opposite is true as well - poor sleep directly leads to a host of problems, both physical and mental. Even one night of bad sleep can have a temporary impact on our functioning. After one or two nights of wakefulness (referred to as acute sleep deprivation), we typically feel sluggish and tired, our eyes feel droopy, our limbs feel heavy, our reflexes are slower, and our brains are a little foggy. This is definitely unpleasant but, if we can reprioritize our sleep, we generally feel much better after one or two solid nights of sleep.
If the nights of inadequate sleep continue more than a few nights and we find that we are consistently not getting enough sleep (referred to as chronic sleep deprivation), some bad things start to happen in our bodies and brains. But, before we dive into the scary stuff, let’s take a look at the amazing things our bodies do when we are sleeping!
How Much Deep Sleep does a Person Need?
Most people need 7.5-8 hours of sleep per night to get the full benefits of sleep. There are four stages of sleep and we need to cycle through all four stages at least five times per night for optimal health. Most of the magic happens in the later two stages (deep wave non-REM sleep and REM sleep). During these stages, our brains are working hard to process memories and create connections so our learning is enhanced, and our bodies are busy creating ATP for energy and doing the super important work of clearing out toxins and dead or damaged cells and proteins so we don’t have a build up of junk in our brains. During the first wave of deep sleep, our bodies release growth hormone. This is the only time during sleep that it is released and you don’t want to miss it! Growth hormone is essential for cell regeneration and the maintenance of the health of every organ in our bodies. Additionally, when we are asleep, our systems are sending out signals (through hormones) throughout the body that regulate all sorts of important functions like heartrate, body temperature, blood pressure, hunger/satiety, stress response, sex drive, and immune response. Basically, sleep is our body’s way of cleaning out the bad, synthesizing the good, and gearing up for new.
What Happens When You Don’t Get Enough Sleep?
So, what happens when we don’t get enough sleep? Well…nothing good. In a nutshell, the less sleep we get, the higher our risk of death from a variety of causes.
Because the release of hunger and satiety hormones becomes dysregulated, we feel increased hunger and tend to eat more when we are sleep-deprived. Additionally, our body’s ability to use glucose goes down when we don’t get enough sleep. When these two things happen, we gain weight, become glucose resistant, and eventually diabetic. Obesity and diabetes are connected with a host of other problems including depression, anxiety, heart disease and neurological issues.
Because we are not giving our bodies and brain the opportunity to be properly cleaned of toxins and dead or damaged cells when we are not getting good sleep, we have a build up of those things in our systems. This build up in the brain could eventually lead to neurological problems like Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease; in the body, this often leads to cancers (specifically bowel, prostate and breast).
Because our immune systems need periods of deep sleep to learn and improve functioning, when we don’t get enough sleep our immune systems don’t function well. Obviously, this leads to increased illness and increased stress on our systems. That increased stress contributes to inflammation and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. In fact, studies are showing that certain genes related to the growth of tumors, chronic inflammation and stress are turned on when we are sleep-deprived while genes connected to a robust immune response are turned off.
And, for those of us who know the importance of exercise for our bodies, lack of sleep has a major impact on our body’s ability to perform optimally. In short, the stability of our muscles is decreased (leading to increased risk of injury), lactic acid builds up more quickly (leading to increased soreness) and our performance drops significantly.
How to Get a Better Nights Sleep
Yikes! I don’t know about you, but learning all of this stuff actually makes it harder for me to fall asleep! I am so worried about getting enough sleep that it keeps me awake! Luckily, I have found some things that work to set me up for a great night of sleep. If you are having trouble sleeping, give these a try:
- Get 10-20 minutes of morning sunlight in your eyes. This helps to reset your circadian clock so you will be sleepier at night. Try a morning walk or outdoor yoga session. But, remember to keep the sunglasses off and to not look directly at the sun- the light needs to get into your eyes but you don’t want to cause injury!
- Decrease or cut out alcohol and THC. While they might make us feel sleepy at first, our bodies have a rebound effect when the alcohol leaves our systems that disrupts our sleep In fact, alcohol and THC are actually REM suppressants so, until they are out of our systems, we don’t go into REM sleep.
- Create a sleep routine. This should include a consistent bedtime and wake schedule, a relaxation ritual, dimming of the lights, turning off all screens an hour before bed, and making sure the room is cool.
- Make sure the room is as dark and quiet as possible when you are ready to go to sleep
- If these don’t work, you can try this combination of supplements that were designed by Andrew Huberman Ph.D. He suggests that you buy single ingredient supplements so you can use what works for you and toss what doesn’t: magnesium threonate (145mg, 30-60 minutes before bed) + theanine (100-400mg, 30-60 minutes before bed) + apigenin (50mg, 30-60 minutes before bed).