With summer right around the corner, our days are getting longer. The combination of more hours of daylight and school letting out for summer often leads to cutting back on sleep. You may find yourself staying up later, and even letting your kids stay up well past their normal bedtimes. It may seem like a harmless change. Unfortunately, it’s not.
Here’s the thing: our society often treats sleep as a nuisance—something that gets in the way of our productivity and stops us from accomplishing more. But sleep is much more important than we give it credit for.
Dr. Matthew Walker, author of Why We Sleep, says, “There is no major physiological system of the body or major operation of the brain that isn't wonderfully enhanced by sleep when we get it or demonstrably impaired when we don't get enough.”
What’s more: there’s growing evidence that every disease of the developed world can be linked to insufficient sleep. Alzheimers, cancer, diabetes—you name it. Sleep is far, far more vital than most people think and far too often neglected in discussions around health.
Why is Sleep Such a Big Deal?
Sleep serves several very important functions, without which our bodies can’t survive. Here are some of the things that happen to your body during sleep:
Endocrine and metabolic balancing occurs
The brain processes information (this is why sleep is vital for learning and retaining information)
Your sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response) takes a break
Immune system releases cytokines, which fight inflammation
Your body clears out toxins
Cellular repair occurs
What Happens When You Don’t Get Enough Sleep?
In 1942, 8 hours of sleep was the norm—we now average 6.8 hours per night. And I bet you know someone who sleeps a lot less than that too. According to the CDC, 1 in 3 American adults fail to get enough sleep on a regular basis (at least 7 hours each night). The consequences of this chronic sleep deprivation are enormous.
Adults who get less than 7 hours of sleep each night are at an increased risk of conditions including:
High blood pressure
Lack of sleep can also lead to a weakened immune system, difficulty losing weight, irritability, impaired decision making, and mental health conditions such as depression
Dr. Malcolm von Schantz of the University of Surrey says this: “Chronic sleep deprivation has been reported to be associated with greater mortality via a large number of negative health outcomes, including obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.”
Sleep deprivation can also have harmful effects that are more wide-reaching than your own personal health. Take drowsy driving as an example. There are an estimated 100,000 accidents related to drowsy driving every year in the U.S., resulting in around 1,500 deaths annually.
How Can You Get Better Sleep?
If you struggle to get an adequate amount of sleep, you’re certainly not alone. There are hundreds of products and prescriptions on the market to help restless people get to sleep. But by simply treating the symptoms (oftentimes with harsh drugs that can cause other problems), you may be missing out on addressing the underlying issues.
Here are 5 things you can do to improve your sleep:
Listen to your body’s natural rhythm. Often we ignore our body’s sleep cues. When you begin to feel drowsy, instead of fighting it off, start moving in that direction. Turn down the lights, start your bedtime routine, and get into bed.
Put your cell phone in another room or inside a drawer so you’re not tempted to scroll (remember: blue light suppresses the body’s release of melatonin, which can mess with your sleep cycle).
Create a calm sleeping environment. Clear your bedroom of clutter and make it an inviting space that promotes relaxation.
Turn on white noise if outside noises are preventing you from sleeping.
Turn down the thermostat. Our body temperature drops at night, so studies have shown that people sleep best in a room that’s around 65 degrees.
Good Sleep is Part of a Bigger Health Picture
Getting a restorative night’s sleep is a vital part of living a healthy life. But it’s only one piece of a larger puzzle. If you want to learn how sleep, nutrition, movement and mental health all work toget her and impact your life, I’d love to work with you. Here are a couple ways to get started:
Download my Actionable Gut Health Tips | A few quick and easy tips for improving your gut health!
Purchase the Food & Mood Webinar for $33 | This is a great intro to learning how to fuel your body to nurture your physical and emotional well-being.
Get on the waitlist for nutritional therapy | Work 1:1 with me to uncover the root causes of your health issues and start implementing practical solutions to feel better in mind and body.
The content found on Integrative Counseling and Nutrition Consulting platform is not intended to be a substitute for professional therapeutic advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your psychiatrist, therapist or other qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding a mental health condition.