How important is sleep for our overall wellness?
Recently, a common question asked by health practitioners to their patients has been, “How have you been sleeping recently?” The increase in curiosity regarding patient’s sleep is likely due to the vast amount of research that has surfaced over the last few years about the health benefits of healthy sleep. Current recommendations from health officials suggest that all adults get at least 7 hours of quality sleep each night. However, if your sleeping patterns do not align with these recommendations, you are not alone. Almost half of all Americans say that they feel sleepy during the day, between 3 and 7 days per week, and over a third of the population (about 35%) report sleeping less than 7 hours each night (Suni). Workers are hit the hardest, with over 32% of working adults reporting that they sleep 6 or fewer hours each night.
Why is getting enough quality sleep at night so important for our health?
Whenever we sleep, our body is still working, but it’s doing different repair work. Instead of focusing its attention on running errands and processing through projects at work, our mind can focus on repairing and restoring many biological processes while we sleep. Sleep allows for essential muscle repair to occur, along with protein synthesis, tissue growth, and hormone release to take place. Brain function is also affected by sleep. Specifically, the brain’s glymphatic system is activated at night which eliminates waste and clears out toxins in the brain, so that it can function well during the waking hours. Sleep also benefits our learning, memory, creativity, decision-making, focus, concentration, and problem-solving skills. Our emotional well-being is also impacted by sleep. The amygdala is the part of the brain that oversees the flight-or-fight, or fear, response. Quality sleep allows the amygdala to adapt better to stress and prevent an overreaction from occurring in our body due to stressful situations we may encounter during the day. Sleep also helps strengthen our immune system. During sleep, several different proteins are produced that help our body fight infections including cytokines, antibodies, and immune cells. Although the mechanisms are unclear, a lack of sleep has also been associated with symptoms that contribute to poor heart health like high blood pressure and increased inflammation in the body.
Sleep also affects our hunger and fullness levels during the day, causing us to feel more hungry and consume more calories when we sleep less. Ghrelin is a hormone produced in the stomach that increases hunger, while leptin is a hormone produced in the body’s fat cells which counter-balances ghrelin and decreases hunger. Lack of sleep increases levels of ghrelin (the hunger hormone) in the body while decreasing leptin (the satiety hormone). This hormonal imbalance can lead to increased hunger throughout the day which in turn increases calorie intake and can lead to weight gain. Even just 5 nights of decreased sleep is associated with an increased risk of obesity, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes. In addition, whenever we are sleep-deprived and tired, we often look to unhealthy choices that will give us a quick boost of energy quickly, like sugar and caffeine, which can also negatively impact our health and sleep patterns.
Yet, how do we improve our sleep to achieve its amazing benefits?
There are actually a few simple habits that we can begin making today that have shown to have a big impact on our sleep. Here are a few of them:
- Stick to a schedule: Going to bed at the same time every night (or around the same time) and waking up at the same time creates a consistent sleep schedule that helps your body fall asleep and wake up more easily. However, if you find yourself lying in bed for hours unable to fall asleep, do a relaxing activity like reading and wait to try to sleep until you’re tired.
- Shift meals to earlier in the day: Eating a meal within a couple of hours before bed may make it more difficult to fall asleep due to the digestion that must occur. Try to finish eating 2-3 hours before bed to help promote restful sleep.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol in the evening: Caffeine can stay in your system for several hours after ingestion, it can even take up to 10 hours for the body to completely clear caffeine from our bloodstream! Since caffeine is a stimulant, it is best to consume it in small amounts in the morning, or not at all. It’s also best to avoid alcohol in the evening, although it can help you fall asleep faster, it may disrupt your deep sleep later on in the night.
- Exercise during the day: exercising helps stabilize mood and de-stress the mind, improving metabolism and decreasing inflammation, which can all help promote sleep. Just 30 minutes of activity during the day can positively affect sleep quality. Exercising outside can help balance one’s circadian rhythms, or sleep-waking cycles, and promote sleep. Try going outside for a walk instead of the gym for a boost of restful sleep!
- Turn off devices before bed: Scrolling through social media or answering emails on your laptop before bed may keep your mind stimulated for hours afterward. Also, looking at blue light from screens before bed affects melatonin production, which is a hormone that helps you fall asleep. Shutting off all devices at least 30 minutes before bed is beneficial for sleep.
- Create a relaxing bedtime ritual: engaging in routine calming activities before bed helps reduce stress and signal to your brain to begin to prepare for restful sleep. Taking a warm bath, reading, meditating, journaling, drinking herbal sleepy time tea, lowering your thermostat, practicing breathing exercises, or listening to calming music can all help you relax and sleep better.
- Manage stress during the day: Taking steps to manage stress during the day can also go a long way in helping with sleep at night. Stressing about the day’s worries at night can lead to a lack of quality sleep. Thus, managing stress through exercise, breathing techniques, counseling, socializing with friends and family, etc., can all help benefit sleep.
If you cannot implement all these habits right away, that is okay! Take one habit from the list above and implement it into your routine this week to see how it impacts your sleep. Then simply add in more habits that feel right to you whenever you feel ready.
If you find yourself needing help from a sleep aid while implementing these habits, a couple of natural supplements that we recommend to patients at WeightWise are magnesium glycinate or melatonin. We often recommend 300-500 mg of magnesium glycinate or 3-5 mg of a fast and slow acting melatonin to our patients to help with improving their sleep.
Please reach out to your team at WeightWise if you would like more tailored advice on your sleep patterns and habits. We are here to help you on your journey to health and wellness!
Suni, Eric. “Sleep Statistics.” SleepFoundation.org, 12 Nov 2021, https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/sleep-facts-statistics. Accessed 21 Feb 2022.
“Sleep tips: 6 Steps to Better Sleep.” MayoClinic.org, 17 Apr 2020, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/sleep/art-20048379#:~:text=The%20recommended%20amount%20of%20sleep,no%20more%20than%20one%20hour. Accessed 21 Feb 2022.
Charles, Shamard. “The Importance of Sleep.” Verywellhealth.com, 10 Jan 2021, https://www.verywellhealth.com/why-you-should-never-regret-a-good-night-s-sleep-5088198. Accessed 21 Feb 2022.
Kristen Nunez and Karen Lamoreux. “What is the Purpose of Sleep?” Healthline.com, 20 Jul 2020, https://www.healthline.com/health/why-do-we-sleep. Accessed 21 Feb 2022.
Pacheco, Danielle. “Lack of Sleep May Increase Calorie Consumption.” Sleepfoundation.org, 11 Dec 2020, https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-deprivation/lack-sleep-may-increase-calorie-consumption. Accessed 21 Feb 2022.
Pacheco, Danielle. “Bedtime Routines for Adults.” Sleepfoundation.org, 8 Jan 2021, https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-hygiene/bedtime-routine-for-adults. Accessed 21