Sleep deprivation has become the new norm – another byproduct of our overstimulated society. We’ve all heard someone proudly proclaim they accomplish more with only a few hours of rest – maybe you’ve even boasted about it yourself. Promoting this mentality of working around the clock can be inspiring when we all want to stay hustling for our dreams, but what are the implications? It’s important to keep in mind that humans quite literally cannot survive without sleep. This fact alone says a lot about the toll it takes when we skimp on it. Our bodies perform all of it’s most essential maintenance when we rest. Not getting enough can cause unpleasant under-eye bags, premature wrinkles, skin dullness, and weight gain – but the reality is, the side effects go far beyond what we notice on the level of vanity. Let’s talk about a few ways in which interrupted sleep/lack of sleep can manifest.
When you lack sleep, your body has a hard time managing blood sugar levels and balancing your gut microbiome. Because of this, research increasingly suggests that short sleep duration (less than 5.5 hours) or chronic partial sleep can cause weight gain and increase the risk of type II diabetes.
Poor sleep patterns affect your adrenal levels dramatically, contributing to a rise in cortisol levels which directly connects to almost all hormone imbalances. An overstimulation of your sympathetic system (fight or flight) manifests as stress, fatigue, low libido, hunger – you name it. In regards to hunger specifically, the hormone imbalance created when we lack sleep makes us 24% more likely to eat more than usual. This suggests that lack of sleep may affect eating behavior favoring emotional/psychological food intake rather than the caloric needs of the body.
Inflammation is at the root of many diseases, from heart disease to depression. With extremes in sleep – too much or too little – we create an imbalance in our blood that essentially prompts our immune system to turn against itself in the form of inflammation.
Research detailing how sleep affects the brain is most compelling (biased. But really, it is fascinating). Studies have shown that getting proper rest creates new connections in the brain that boost creativity and improve our ability to problem-solve. These benefits also show in mid-day naps. Hopefully, it’s clear that there is not one area of your life that sleep doesn’t touch. It is at the foundation of wellness and intricately connected to creativity, memory, metabolism, healthy stress responses, stable moods, and a balanced immune system. If we want to enjoy our prosperous lives, now would be a great time to change the narrative and acknowledge that we can be both successful and well-rested simultaneously. Keep reading to learn five ways you can balance your body and make up for the accrued sleep debt.
1. Put. The iPhone. Down.
When we stimulate our brain with lights, it’s tough for our nervous system to relax. Even with the night-shift option on our phones now, unfortunately, it doesn’t make much of a difference. Light in any form messes with our internal clock that perceives day and night which stops the development of melatonin. Any stimulation keeps our brain on go-mode. Make it a rule to stop using technology at least an hour before you want to be asleep and watch the quality of your rest improve tremendously.
Most of us have trouble sleeping due to an overactive sympathetic system (fight or flight mode). By calming the mind and bringing our attention to the present moment through steady breathing, we naturally give our body a safe place to rest. Additionally, what you place in your mind before sleeping is extremely important. Meditation offers a way of clearing worry and stress that would otherwise linger with you when you drift off to sleep.
Hypnotherapy is fascinating to me, and this is one of my favorite nightly practices. It may have a bad rep, but it’s time to get over that. It’s incredibly safe, and if you ever have trouble falling asleep, it could be your new favorite thing. Its different than the practice of nighttime meditation in the sense that with hypnosis you are allowing yourself to drift into sleep, whereas with meditation you are engaging in a calming practice while awake. Self-hypnosis is the act of bringing yourself deeper into your internal body. If you’re interested in giving it a try, there are plenty of online instructions, youtube videos, and of course, apps.
4. Valerian root & lemon balm.
The herbal power duo. Valerian root is known as the herbal sleep aid, while lemon balm is excellent for calming the nervous system. If you deal with any form of hyperactive nerves, these two herbs in unison work wonders. Taking them together is helpful because if you were to take valerian root by itself with high energy, it could cause the herb to have the opposite effect and keep you awake. The lemon balm does the work to ease you into the peaceful rest that valerian root brings.
5. AM & PM rituals.
Ah yes, the power of habit. Maintaining regularity is by far the most valuable thing you can incorporate for restful sleep. Merely sleeping and waking at the same time has been shown to reinforce our circadian rhythm which ultimately translates to deeper sleep and more alert wakefulness. In Ayurveda, traditional Indian medicine, the importance of ritual and living in tune with nature has been known for thousands of years. With routine evening practices, your body begins to recognize when its time for bed. Examples of this would be having a nightly face cleansing routine, lighting candles, reading, or all the above. For an AM routine, a healthy morning stretch and warm lemon water are wonderful additions. In between these practices, you’ll want to be dedicating at least 7-9 hours for rest every night for optimal wellness. Even if you live a busy life or continuously travel, remaining consistent with simple practices can create a sense of balance for your body that keeps your heart healthy and stress hormone levels low.