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Is Your Poor Quality Sleep Damaging Your Health?

Are you reaching for a 3 PM snack or coffee?

  • Are you constantly feeling lethargic or not able to think straight throughout most of the day? Are you constantly hitting that snooze button or setting more than 5 alarms of a morning?

  • Does your mood change constantly throughout the day?

Before you rush to self-diagnose yourself on WebMD…  guess what? The chances are, you’re probably just struggling to get a good night’s sleep and are feeling the full weight of it!

With heightened levels of cortisol, nail-bitingly tight deadlines, caffeine-loaded diets, sensory overload from our wall-to-wall devices, and the stress of our everyday lives, it really should come as no surprise that our bodies are finding it increasingly difficult to switch off from the many distractions around us and reach a restful state. Yet, the question must be asked - why is sleep so important, how much should you be getting, and what can you do about it? Keep reading!

Why is sleep so important?

It’s no secret that the way you feel when you’re awake largely depends on what happens while you’re sleeping. Simply put - the quality of your sleep will either progress or regress your mental health, physical health, and quality of life. 

But, why? While you’re sleeping, your body is working hard to support healthy brain function and to maintain your physical health. Your body plays an important role in healing damaged cells, boosting your immune system, recovering from your daily tasks, and recharging your heart and cardiovascular system. Sleep is the secret to maintaining optimal emotional balance, brain health, mental sharpness, energy, and your ability to handle stress adequately.

To understand exactly why sleep is so crucial, it’s important to understand the sleep cycle and what your body experiences during these phases. The sleep cycle consists of two phases, which you’ve most likely heard of REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM (non-rapid eye movement):

  • Non-REM sleep - This form of sleep generally makes up 75-80% of your total sleep each night. It is responsible for tissue growth and repair, the restoration of energy, and the release of hormones that are required for development and growth. 

  • REM sleep - This form of sleep typically makes up 20-25% of your total sleep each night. During periods of dreaming, REM sleep plays an important role in helping our minds process and consolidating emotions, memories and stress. Additionally, it’s also essential for learning as it stimulates areas of the brain that are used for learning and developing new skills.

How much sleep should you be getting?

Did you know that the average adult sleeps less than seven hours per night? (National Institute of Health 2011).

While seven hours might sound harmless, or even an accomplishment to some of us, the harsh truth is that you’re well on your way to chronic sleep deprivation if you continually get less than seven hours a night. While you may be able to operate, you’re certainly not functioning to your full potential, and with this comes compromised cognitive function at work, performance in the gym, and mental wellness at home.

According to Health Finder, most adults need 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep regularly. However, it’s important to note that sleep recommendations aren’t merely based on ticking off a certain number of hours, it’s about ensuring your body gets the quality of sleep required to regenerate overnight. Like most things in life, it’s about quality, not quantity. According to the National Sleep Foundation, these age groups require the following amount of sleep:

How do you know if you’re getting enough sleep?

If you’re functioning, energised and feeling your best throughout the day, it’s highly probable that you’re receiving the amount of sleep your body requires to get the most out of your day, from the time of waking to when you go to sleep.

However, if you’re experiencing the following symptoms, there’s a chance that your body is crying out for a bit of shut eye: 

  • Unhealthy eyes - If your eyes are constantly red, puffy, and have dark circles or bags, it may be a sign that you’re sleep-deprived. Seems pretty obvious, right? But what you may not realise is that those who don’t get enough sleep also tend to have more wrinkles, swelling and droopiness (most likely because your body misses out on the hormone control and tissue repair that happens during deep sleep). If sleeping to reduce the onset of wrinkles and droopiness doesn’t encourage you to get more zzz’s, we’re not sure what will! 

  • Weight gain - Two hormones help to control normal feelings of hunger and satiety. Ghrelin is known to help stimulate appetite, while leptin is responsible for alerting your brain when you’re full. However, when you don’t get enough sleep, your ghrelin levels increase, which in turn boosts your appetite, while your leptin levels decrease, which means you’re likely to overeat as you won’t feel satisfied. So, if you’re experiencing unexplained hunger cravings and an increased appetite, it might be time to roll down the blinds and pop on some Enya! 

  • Constant caffeine cravings - If you find yourself constantly rushing back to the coffee machine to top up your cup, you’re most likely not as rested as you thought. While caffeine may sound like the solution to your fatigue it’s part of the problem. While the short-term effects mean you’ll be more alert and have that extra 3 pm boost, in the long run, it may lead to insomnia or anxiety. 

  • Mood swings - Irritability is one of the leading symptoms of poor sleep. Not getting enough zzz’s is suggested to increase moodiness, while also making you more emotional and quick-tempered. A study that limited participants to only 4.5 hours of sleep a night for one week indicated that all participants experienced heightened levels of stress, anger and mental exhaustion (Nazario 2018).

  • Constantly under the weather - While you sleep, your immune system gets to work by producing protective, infection-fighting substances, such as cytokines. These substances are then used to help combat foreign invaders, including bacteria and viruses. Not getting enough sleep is known to weaken your immune system’s defenses against viruses, which in turn increases your risk of getting sick. 

  • Low libido - If you’re not getting enough sleep, it could very well be the reason for your virtually non-existent sex drive. For men, low libido may be the result of decreased testosterone levels caused by a lack of sleep. If the wrinkles point above didn’t hit hard, SURELY this one will!

How can you improve your sleep quality?

There are several things that you can try before turning to supplements.

Make sure that your environment (your bedroom) is geared for sleeping. No electronic devices such as computers, laptops, phones or televisions just to name a few. If you are using your phone as an alarm clock, then my recommendation is to get an alarm clock beside your bed and place your phone on charge in another room. As for televisions, computers and laptops, you should always have your workspace separate from your sleep space. If this is not possible, make sure that it is all powered down completely! This can be done by not just placing the electronic device in stand-by mode, but by turning them off at the power outlet at the wall.

Next, you can look at changing the temperature; making sure that it is not too warm and not too cold outside the blankets. Ideally, the temperature outside the blankets should be anywhere between 15 to 20 degrees Celsius.

Not only should you keep the room cool but keep it quiet. Ensure that there is little sound coming from any devices within the room as well as the surrounding rooms and external locations.

Thirdly, avoid any caffeine or energy-based beverages within 6 to 8 hours of sleeping as these may keep you awake for obvious reasons.

Lastly, ensure that your bedding covers are for the right season. You wouldn't want to have winter bedding in summer and vice versa. Swapping them when the season is right will ensure ambient temperatures under the covers, too!

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