Lack of Sleep is a serious condition which can impact a persons day to day life significantly. It's a condition in which a person has trouble falling asleep within 30 minutes of going to bed, which leads to daytime fatigue, drowsiness, brain fog, etc.
A building, tower, or a monument is supported by its foundation pillars, If that pillar is damaged, the whole structure runs the risk of crumbling down.
Similarly, Sleep plays an extremely important role in our overall health, from healing, recovery, immune function, growth of our body from childhood to adulthood, all depends on our daily night of sleep.
So when a person has trouble falling and staying asleep at night, this leads to detrimental health effects. Which if not taken seriously can have long term consequences on our mental and physical health.
What Causes Lack of Sleep in the First Place?
There could be various reasons, it could be lifestyle changes, being on medications, having a sedentary life, etc. it varies from person to person but the most common causes which we see nowadays include :
In our everyday lives, our brains are constantly exposed to news, social media, gossips, relationships, work, financial issues, diseases, etc. We see a lot of things every day on our phone and in the outside world.
My point is, We are constantly onto the next thing, like work, exercise, tv, reading then off to bed. So when we have all these unprocessed thoughts or worries, they are bound to come up when you are undisturbed.
And when are we still and in one place? At night when we go to bed. So all these passive thoughts now are going to pop up one by one because we haven't given our brain the time to process it which leads to having trouble falling asleep or getting little to no sleep at all.
Having a Carbohydrate-rich meal
We must understand, Carbohydrate is an energy-giving macronutrient, so we need it according to our energy needs.
So when you have a Carb filled dinner at night before going to bed, it's going to cause a spike in the blood sugar, keeping you energized, and when you are energized it will make it harder to fall asleep. Which is why it's important to have our dinner a few hours before going to bed.
Tea, Coffee, and Smoking
All the above-mentioned things are consumed for the purpose of staying awake and alert. This happens because drinks such as tea coffee and cigarettes block adenosine receptors.
Which is the byproduct of our cells that makes us tired and invokes the urge to fall asleep These stimulants suppress those urges as long as it is in our system. This leads to a lack of sleep at night. Especially if you had your tea closer to bedtime.
Being Exposed to Bright Light
You see, to fall asleep our body produces a hormone called melatonin. Now, this hormone is also known as a light-sensitive hormone because when it is exposed to light, its effects will get suppressed. So when you are using phones at night the light that it emanates can lessen the effects of Melatonin. You may still fall asleep because of tiredness and fatigue but you will wake up feeling wanting for more even after 7-8 hours of sleep.
Effects of Sleep Deprivation
Can Cause Weight gain
Studies have shown that even a couple hours of less sleep a night can lead to hormonal imbalances, For example, Ghrelin which is a hunger hormone, goes up significantly and the satiety hormone leptin which provides us the feeling of fullness goes down or get suppressed.
Due to these hormonal changes, a person may not feel the gratification he/she seeks, It could also lead to a craving for refined carbohydrates because of the absence of essential levels of leptin caused due to lack of sleep.
It makes you feel lethargic and fatigued throughout the day.
Our Energy levels are highest in the morning after we wake up. Throughout the day the energy that we use physically and mentally causes exhaustion by the time we get to bed.
This is because when the energy gets used up by the cells of our body, it breaks down certain by-products and toxic wastes that get accumulated from the time we wake up till we go to sleep again.
So when we are asleep our brain releases the cerebral spinal fluid from the glymphatic system, which washes out all the toxic wastes and the dead cells, leaving us feeling refreshed and energized by the time we wake up.
Hence when a person is sleep-deprived, the waste products won't be eliminated as efficiently and the stem cells won't be able to create new cells as compared to someone who gets a good night's sleep. Over time this could also lead to brain-related diseases such as Dementia and Alzheimers.
Your libido goes down
Testosterone is the hormone responsible for the feeling of desire and arousal. Its production increases while we are in deep REM sleep.
So when we are lacking those important hours of rest, Studies show that the testosterone levels will be lower than it should be even in young men. Which leads to loss of libido, low sperm count, infertility, etc.
Your aging process accelerates
Keep in mind all healing, growth, repair, and rejuvenation takes place while we are in our deep state of slumber. Collagen is a protein that is responsible for the elasticity and the tightness of our skin.
Studies show that a drop in quality sleep interferes in the production of collagen which in turn results in degeneration of our of the cells fasters than it should. And you end of looking sloppy and older, your skin overtime loses its firmness and the glow it normally did.
It weakens your immune system
As I mentioned above, healing takes place in our body while we are asleep, Similarly, when we are sick of a disease, the immune function goes up in a deep state of sleepiness.
Research has shown that T-cell activity increases during sleep, which is our killer cells, its job to kill the pathogens invading our body by neutralizing it.
Hence when you are sleep deprived you automatically become more susceptible to diseases and healing and recovering will take longer than usual even for minor cuts and wounds.
What can you do to improve your sleep?
1) Rewire your brain to sleep at a specific time
Our body has its own biological clock, if you eat at different times you may have digestive issues. Similarly, if you always sleep at different times, you will end up confusing your brain leading to difficulty falling asleep.
To retrain your brain, you must go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time every day, Start by setting up an alarm for a specific hour and wake up at that hour even if you haven't slept well.
It's about retraining your brain. It might take a few days or more but once your brain gets used to your schedule, it will automatically produce melatonin when that sleeping hour comes closer.
So make sure that you are consistent with your sleeping pattern, whatever your lifestyle is, whether you have to work early or in the night shift, it's important to have a consistent sleep cycle to get deep sleep every day.
2) Have a pre-bedtime routine
Having a bedtime routine sort of cues your brain that it's about time to go to sleep and it will slowly start producing melatonin after you are done with your routine.
The routine can be anything, from brushing your teeth, washing your face, locking doors, having chamomile tea, Praying, Expressing gratitude, etc.
The idea is to have a short routine before going to sleep so that your brain anticipates what is coming next and it will react accordingly.
3) Avoid taking naps during the day
Taking long naps in the afternoon disrupts your natural sleep cycle, the more you sleep in the day, the longer it will take for your next sleep cycle to occur, which means you will have difficulties in falling asleep at night.
If you do want to sleep at noon. Prefer short naps of 30 to 60 minutes max. depending on how much you slept during the night and your activity since morning.
4) Check your magnesium levels
Magnesium is an important mineral which is responsible for over 300 biochemical reactions in our body, One of its functions is to regulate our circadian rhythm. Studies have indicated that low magnesium levels are often linked with insomnia.
So you might want to check your serum magnesium levels, which can be determined through a blood test. Otherwise, you can naturally improve your magnesium levels through nutrition.
The richest sources of magnesium include green leafy vegetables, nuts, legumes, and whole grains. You can also take a mineral supplement after conferring with your local doctor if you are not able to achieve optimum levels through your diet for some reason.
5) Take time to reflect on your thoughts during the day
As I mentioned in the beginning that our mind has a lot of unprocessed thoughts which will eventually come up when you are lying still in bed at night.
Which is why you must have at least 10-20 minutes in your day scheduled to simply look inwards which means to Meditate and let your mind sort of a have a space to relax and connect all the unprocessed neural links and synapses which it didn't have the time to because we are always on the move.
So taking time for yourself to reflect not only calms your mind, it will set your hormonal imbalances in place. It also Trains your mind to be in the present, so even if some thoughts do occur while you are sleeping, you get used to having an anchor or a center that you can go back to through focusing on your breath and bringing back your attention in the present moment.
If you have a sedentary lifestyle, it's imperative that you make a change by adding some sort of exercise. Because you see, the body needs blood circulation for various functions including regulating sleep levels.
When we are sedentary and when we don't make use of our muscles, bones, and our brain. They will require less recovery and rejuvenation, hence less requirement for a proper deep state of rest.
Studies have shown that sleep could impact severely due to lack of activity leading to less sleep over time.
7) Don't rely on sleeping pills
Medication to induce sleep can be helpful for some people for a certain period, although in the long term it will cause more harm than good.
Because once your body gets used to having that artificially produced sedative in the bloodstream, you will require higher doses as time passes.
It could also lead to the body not making its own melatonin since we are taking that sleeping pill every day, there is no use for the naturally produced one.
So you have to be careful with the use of medications. Do it under the guidance of your doctor but the goal always should be to get off it eventually and improve your lifestyle.
8) Go easy on Simple Carbs at Night
I understand many of us are used to having white rice for dinner. Although we must understand, white rice is a simple carbohydrate, it doesn't contain any fiber, which means it will spike your blood sugar quickly, leaving you energized.
So what happens is you will feel harder to have that state of calm and relaxation as long as that glucose from the simple carbs remains present in your bloodstream.
Keep in mind at night time you require the least amount of energy. so what can you do?
Have whole grain rice instead, If you can't then you must decrease the portion of rice and increase the portion of your vegetables, beans, salads.
The same applies to non-vegetarian, have a mixture of your meat and veggies, and less of rice.
It's important to fix the root cause of the problem which is leading to the lack of sleep instead of a quick fix like medication.
There are no quick fixes when it comes to our bodies. Having a routine, consistency, and discipline in our Life is the only fix that will prevail in the end.