Do you sometimes struggle to get a good night’s sleep? I’ve seen a few friends post about this recently and thought it was a topic worth digging into. When I’m tired, I’m MISERABLE! In this article you’ll learn what the impacts are of not getting enough sleep regularly, and more importantly, some tips to help you if you are struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep.
Having had two kids, I have first-hand experience of what sleep deprivation feels like – I honestly don’t know how I survived the first 9 months of my son’s life when I rarely slept for longer than 2 hours at a time.
Everyone is different when it comes to how much sleep they need a night, but I have noticed a marked difference in my outlook when I have not had a good night’s sleep. I find I’m less able to cope with challenges, more emotional, less patient – in general I’m not as nice to be around… sorry fam!
The Impact Of Not Getting A Good Night’s Sleep
First, let’s get a little bit sciency and delve into some of the impacts of not having a good night’s sleep:
Suppressed Immune System
I could have told you this anecdotally, but as WebMD confirms, sleep deprivation will impact your immune system. You’re more likely to be affected by those cold and flu germs flying around. Not only that, your immune system will have a harder time fighting illness when you pick something up.
Slower Reaction Times
This study in the British Medical Journal, and many others, have shown that reaction times can slow down significantly when a person has been deprived of sleep. That can have some serious implications in both the workplace, as well as in everyday situations such as driving your car. Seconds can be of the essence to prevent a serious accident when we’re on the road.
Increased Likelihood of Serious Health Issues
Lack of sleep has been shown to cause an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and certain cancers. The Sleep Foundation delves into the relationship between sleep and heart health here. It explains how long, deep periods of rest allow heart rate and blood pressure to lower. Continued lack of sleep will cause higher blood pressure and an increased chance of heart problems.
Increased Weight Gain
Ok, so if there’s one reason that will motivate me to go to sleep earlier, it’s this one! This article from the Mayo Clinic states “In another study, women who slept less than six hours a night or more than nine hours were more likely to gain 11 pounds (5 kilograms) compared with women who slept seven hours a night.” So now I have a new excuse for my BMI other than just being too short for my height…
There are so many benefits to getting more sleep – it also increases sex drive (wit woo!), boosts your well-being, makes you less accident-prone and allows you to think better. I think we can shout a resounding ‘yes please!’ to all of those!
Well I think we have enough reasons to make sure we get a good night’s sleep. But it’s not always that easy! Let’s review some good strategies to give you the best chance of falling asleep easily and staying asleep through the night.
Tips To Ensure A Good Night’s Sleep
Watch Your Caffeine Intake
Ok, we all know that caffeine will keep us awake, but we don’t need to give up our coffee (or tea in my case) just yet. Just be mindful of when you drink it, and try to cut yourself off by early afternoon (this article at the Huffington Post suggests by 2pm.)
Don’t forget, caffeine will also appear in energy drinks, cokes and I’ve even found too much chocolate late in the day will have me waking up at night (now I’m wondering if that chocolate might have something to do with my aforementioned weight challenges…)
Create A Positive Sleeping Environment
Although we think about bed being a place for feeling snuggly and warm, a cooler room will allow you to get better sleep – between 60 and 67 degrees according to Sleep.org.
It should also be quiet and dark. Again – it sounds obvious, but there could be disruptions in your bedroom that you haven’t even thought of. Having devices charging in your bedroom, from phones to laptops, can generate a surprising amount of light that can affect your sleep. Try to charge them elsewhere, or if that’s not an option, put some dark tape over the offending lights to keep your room as dark as possible.
Eliminate Screen Time Before Bed
Talking of laptops and phones, looking at our beloved devices right before sleep is a major no-no. What’s the reason why? The specific kind of light that electronic devices emit prevents our brains from releasing melatonin, the hormone which helps us to fall asleep.
Try to step away from your device at least one hour before your bedtime. Not only will you have an easier time falling asleep, you might also do something productive like read a book or talk with your significant other!
Keep a Notepad By Your Bed
The brain is a funny thing, and loves to surprise us with random worries at 3am. During especially stressful periods of life, I would be woken up with thoughts of small details that I may have missed during the day and they would swim round and round in my head and stop me from falling back to sleep. The solution I eventually found was to write down the thought on a notepad which allowed me to tell my brain ‘It’s ok, you can deal with that in the morning’. I put the worries to bed if you will!
Eat A Balanced Diet and Exercise
Ugh – BORING! Sorry, but it’s true – all those things that we’re supposed to do to stay healthy will help you sleep better at night too. A heavy carb-laden meal late in the evening is going to mess with your digestion and disrupt your sleep.
But more than that – a healthy diet will improve your body’s ability to get a good night’s sleep. As Ana Krieger, MD, MPH, Medical Director of the Center for Sleep Medicine at New York-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine states in this NBC article “Eating healthy and allowing the body to absorb proper nutrients provides the brain with the chemical environment that it needs to produce the neurotransmitters that it needs to maintain adequate sleep”.
Talk To Your Doctor
My next item was going to be ‘Supplements’, but as I researched the use of supplements such as magnesium, it became clear that care should be taken. While low levels of magnesium specifically have been shown to be linked to sleep disorders, taking a supplement can interact with other drugs. As this New York Times article points out, you may be better off increasing your magnesium intake through whole foods rather than supplements.
Other reasons to see your doctor may be to rule out or address more serious conditions such as sleep apnea, depression, or the impact of medications you are currently taking. Here is a great overview of conditions and medications that could be affecting your ability to get a good night’s sleep.
These days we tend to have a lot going on – work, family, home, fitness, friends. Trying to squeeze everything in can mean we don’t leave enough hours for some good quality Z’s as well. It’s tough when we’re trying to do it all, but it’s important to recognize the potentially serious impacts of continually not having enough sleep.
Give it the priority it deserves.
Sometimes, we have to make hard decisions to allow ourselves to find some UnBusy. Perhaps it’s going out socially a little less than we would like, or leaving the home a little messier than we’d prefer, or doing one less workout a week. Be kind to yourself – get some sleep!