How Does Lack of Sleep Affect Your Health?
Along with eating right, exercising and maintaining a positive mindset, getting adequate sleep is one of the most important things we can do. While we drift through dreamland, our bodies are being repaired and rejuvenated from the inside out. Missing sleep can do more than simply put you in a bad mood the next day. It can cause serious harm to the body and mind.
The Stages of Sleep: You Need the Full Cycle
Are you always tired? Does the sleep you get at night never seem to be enough? Do you wake in the morning longing to spent the day snoring? If so, you might be getting inadequate sleep. Proper sleep involves five stages.
- When you first begin to drift asleep or awake, you're in stage one. During this stage, you are still partially conscious and can be easily woken up.
- Your brain waves begin to slow, your temperature drops, your eyes cease to move and your body prepares to enter deep sleep.
- During this stage, you are fully asleep, and your brain is operating using a pattern of slow delta waves intermixed with faster waves.
- This is the deepest stage of sleep, during which your brain uses only delta waves.
- Also known as rapid eye movement, REM sleep is the stage in which you have dreams. Your body is fully asleep, but your mind behaves as if it's awake. This stage occurs after the other stages have been completed.
Most people assume that if they're falling asleep at night, they must be getting the required amount of rest, but this isn't always the case. You might be entering the first few stages of sleep but never reaching the deeper stages, causing your body to carry onward in a perpetual state of sleep deprivation. If, along with feeling exhausted during the day, you toss and turn in bed, wake often throughout the night and can't remember having any recent dreams, you might be failing to reach the deeper stages of sleep.
Damaging Effects of Sleep Deprivation: Don't Neglect Your Health
If you suspect that you're not sleeping properly at night, you don't want to let the problem go. Most people think of insomnia as a nuisance and nothing more, but a long-term lack of proper sleep can have serious physical and mental consequences.
Your Work Life
When you don't get adequate sleep, you can't make smart decisions. You may suffer from memory problems or the inability to focus. You could find yourself struggling during meetings or having a hard time staying on top of the work you need to get done. If your job involves driving or operating heavy machinery, attempting to work in such an exhausted state could be dangerous to yourself and others.
Your Personal Life
Everything is connected. Therefore, if your body and mind are suffering, your sex drive will suffer as well. On top of a loss of libido, sleep deprivation could leave you irritable and depressed, making it harder to work out problems in your relationship. If you're single, you might lose the motivation to get out and date due to always being tired and feeling down.
Your Ability to Maintain Your Body
Sleep deprivation can lead to dehydration, which is both dangerous and uncomfortable. It's hard to get through a good workout at the gym when you're exhausted, irritable and dehydrated. You'll be more likely to skip working out all together.
There is also the issue of craving foods. Studies have shown that the lack of sleep can contribute to lowered levels of the hormone leptin, which makes us feel hungry. Leptin levels go up as our bodies repair during sleep, which is one reason many people don't feel hungry for breakfast in the morning. When you skip sleep, you might crave junk food all day, and you'll likely give in to those cravings to boost your irritable mood. All of this can make it harder to maintain a fit body and active lifestyle.
Your brain creates toxic byproducts as it carries out its various processes. These toxins are handled by your brain's glymphatic system, but when you don't get proper sleep, your glymphatic system never gets the chance to do its job. This can lead to a buildup of neurotoxins in the brain.
Along with the neurotoxin issue, studies have found that the lack of sleep induces weakness in the blood-brain barrier. This can cause a variety of serious problems, especially for people who take certain medications.
Your General Health
We all have a natural clock that aligns with the cycle of the earth. The genes that control this clock are connected to other parts of the body as well, such as the metabolism and immune system. Without the chance to heal at night, your body will be dealing with more inflammation, which can lead to unpleasant symptoms and illnesses long term.
During the first 24 hours of sleep deprivation, your physical and mental health begin to decline. Your heart must work harder to pump blood throughout your body, and your blood pressure begins to rise. Along with a greater chance of obesity, research has shown that people who are chronically sleep deprived may be more likely to suffer from diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, mood disorders and even cancer.
Late-night Gaming and Computer Browsing: Is Blue Light Keeping You Awake?
Now that you fully understand the importance of sleep, you might be looking for ways to make sure you're providing yourself with the best sleep possible. Adults need seven to eight hours of sleep each night, and it can take some time to fall asleep, so your first step should be setting a reasonable bedtime. Your ideal bedtime will depend on when you need to wake up in the morning, but the most natural routine is to rise with the sun and fall asleep sometime before midnight. If you can't manage that, you can at least check for bad habits that might be delaying sleep whenever you do go to bed.
One of those bad habits is late-night screen time. Whether it's video games, internet browsing or even watching television, studies have shown that staring at a screen can interfere with proper sleep. These screens release light on the blue wavelength, which is much like exposing our eyes to bright sunlight.
For millennia, our bodies have evolved to respond to natural light by waking up. By using electronic devices in the hours before bedtime, we are essentially telling our bodies that we're hours away from being prepared to go to sleep. You might be exhausted, but if your body thinks you're halfway through your workday, it's going to attempt to remain awake.
This ugly cycle is perpetuated by the fact that blue light exposure blocks the brain from making melatonin, an important natural hormone that helps us fall asleep. This is why taking melatonin supplements can sometimes be a big help. However, not everyone reacts to these supplements very well, and it's always better to seek out more reliable long-term solutions.
Dealing with Blue Light: How to Protect Your Sleep Cycle without Giving Up the Games
While turning off the electronics in favor of a warm bath or an hour of meditation is ideal, not everyone wants to shut off the computer in the minutes leading up to bedtime. Maybe you're absorbed in an awesome new game, or maybe you're working on a big project, and you need to cram as many hours of work in as you can. Luckily, there are devices designed to filter out the blue light and help your body relax into sleep more quickly when you're ready.
Options for blocking out blue light include:
- Glasses that are designed to cover your eyes and prevent the light from getting in.
- Special monitors and screens that are made to produce less blue light.
- Screen-filtering devices, which can be placed on top of the television or computer monitor
Along with making an effort to block blue light, you can also try your best to save the most relaxing activities for later in the evening. If you want to play a video game, choose a calming puzzle game versus an exciting first-person shooter. If you enjoy falling asleep to a movie, make sure it's on the boring side. Better yet, get into the habit of reading a good book before bed.