3 Reasons Why Lack of Sleep Affects Your Health And 8 Tips On How To Change It

Question: I have trouble sleeping – getting to sleep AND staying asleep. I feel more wound up at night and sluggish in the morning. Help!

Answer: Sleep hygiene is one of the many challenges I come across with my clients at Solaris Whole Health. I remember being the global pharmaceutical market manager fora fortune 100 company, traveling 3 out of 4 weeks a month and sleeping 2-3 hours per night. I saw my body shape, moods and immune getting worse. I knew it wasn’t good but I didn’t now how to change it.  

Sleep or lack thereof affects your ability to lose weight, deal with typical daily stresses effectively, and fight off colds. Sleep is a necessity, not a luxury. Here are 3 reasons why lack of sleep affects your health and and 8 tips on how to change it!

1. Sleep and Hunger. Sleep loss disconnects your brain from your stomach. There are 2 digestive hormones that control hunger; ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin, or the ‘go hormone or green light hormone’ is secreted when your stomach is empty, telling your body to‘eat’. Leptin, your  “red light” hormone is secreted when your stomach is full, telling you to ‘stop eating’.

A 2004 University of Chicago study showed that when people were allowed only 4 hours of sleep, two nights in a row, leptin (stop eating hormone) decreased by 20% and the “eating hormone” ghrelin increased!  The people in the study had a 23% increase in hunger and appetite. Not only did they want to eat more, they craved sweets, salty snacks, and starchy foods. Bottom Line: Sleep loss tricks your body into believing it’s hungry.

2. Sleep and Stress. Lack of sleep increases cortisol levels in the afternoon and evening. Increased cortisol levels tell your body to break down muscle and store fat. It also inhibits secretion of serotonin – your ‘feel good hormone’. Not only does this effect how you deal with stress, it also makes you crave ‘feel good foods’ (like cookies for example). Bottom Line: Sleep loss keeps you in an ever present ‘stress mode’, depleting your ability to cope with daily stresses.

3. Sleep and Colds. A JAMA study concluded that those who get less than 7 hours sleep are 3 times more likely to catch a cold. Bottom Line: Sleep boosts immunity while sleep loss impairs it.

What can you do.

  1. Whatever you do, keep to a ‘sleep schedule’. Go to bed and wake up at the same time no matter what hours you work. When you travel, stick to the hours in your ‘new time zone’ you’re traveling to, not the time zone you left.
  2. Keep distractions to a minimum. Your bedroom is for two things: sleep and sex. TV, computers and reading need to be left to other parts of your home. When you feel sleepy, let yourself go to bed instead of falling asleep on the couch.
  3. Make sure you have a comfortable mattress. Keep it quiet. Even if you live in a noisy area, find ear plugs, keep dogs out and use a fan or wave machine for white noise and Keep it dark. Keep to minimal distractions; dark blinds, eye sleep ware, etc.
  4. Come up with your own night time and wake up ritual. Take a hot quick shower, wash your face, brush your teeth, comb your hair, get into your sleep clothes etc. Prepare yourself and your body for a clean, comfortable sleep.
  5. Quiet your mind. If your mind races at night, dump all your thoughts on apiece of paper and tell yourself you’ll deal with it in the morning after a goodnight’s sleep.
  6. Don’t fight it! If you find yourself lying in bed for more than 15 minutes unable to sleep, do something that’s not too stimulating like listening to a guided mediation app, or a soothing audiobook or a white noise app.
  7. Don’t go to bed hungry or too full. Maintaining consistent blood sugar is key. Eat nutrient rich foods that are gluten free along with vegetables, vegetable juices, lean protein and fruits in 5-6 small meals per day. If you don’t eat enough or eat too much right before bed a dip in blood sugar will wake you up.
  8. Practice. Sleeping well does not happen overnight! If these things don’t work, seek out a health professional you trust to help your body get back into balance. A good night’s sleep never felt so good.