Sleep doesn’t get the respect or attention it deserves. According to the CDC, over one-third of Americans don’t sleep enough.
As a wellness and nutrition coach, many of my clients resist going to sleep—even when they’re exhausted—trading an earlier bedtime for more “me time” (usually spent online).
By depriving yourself of the 7-9 hours you need every night, you increase the risk of developing chronic diseases, like type 2 diabetes and heart disease, even if you eat well, exercise, take supplements and meditate. Sleep is that important!
But it’s not just about the number of hours you spend in bed; your sleep quality also matters. And the side effects of chronic lack of sleep are serious. Here’s how bad it can get.
You can get angry easily.
When Iowa State University researchers restricted the sleep of study participants by two to four hours, they found that, even with two hours of sleep loss, participants reacted more angrily and were less able to adapt to frustrating situations, like irritating noise.
You may crave (and eat) more sugar and carbs.
Lack of sleep negatively affects two important hormones that regulate appetite. Ghrelin, the “hunger hormone,” stimulates appetite and cravings for simple sugars and carbs, increases food intake, and promotes fat storage (think belly fat!). Leptin, a hormone produced in our fat cells, signals feeling full. In a study that compared participants who slept either five hours or eight hours, researchers found that the five-hour group had higher ghrelin by 15 percent, lower leptin by 16 percent and a higher body mass index (BMI).
Aging happens at a cellular level, and researchers have learned a lot by looking at telomeres, protective “caps” on the end of your chromosome that wear with age. Shorter telomere length is associated with increased risk of chronic disease and conditions, like heart disease, obesity, and cancer, while long telomeres keep your cells healthy and slow down the aging process. A study published in the Journal Sleep found that getting adequate sleep (seven hours or more) was associated with longer telomeres among older adults.
How can you reverse these negative side effects?
Create a wind down routine.
Instead of waiting until the last minute to relax (which isn’t very relaxing), start winding down 60-90 minutes before bed. Take a warm bath or shower; drink a calming, sleep-inducing herbal tea, like valerian, chamomile, or passionflower. Read or write in a journal. Do deep breathing exercises to help release tension and stressful thoughts. Signal to your mind and body that it’s time for bed.
Stabilize your blood sugar.
Eat protein at each meal to help avoid the sugar spikes and crashes throughout the day. Save any starchy carbs, like black beans, quinoa, brown rice, or sweet potatoes, for your evening meal to help promote sleep.
Keep Your Room Cool, Dark, And Quiet
For optimal sleep, aim for comfortably cool temperature, around 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit. Try a sleep mask or blackout curtains to block light and a white noise machine to keep ambient sounds from disturbing you. And make your bedroom an electronics-free zone; you just might enjoy taking a nightly cell phone sabbatical.