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Sleep deprivation can cause a host of issues – irritable moods, low energy levels, compromised immunity, and weight gain, along with more dangerous ones.
How important do you think sleep is on a scale of 1-10?
Evolutionarily, there should be something worthwhile about sleep since we spend 1/3 of our lives sleeping or at least trying to sleep. Sleep is more important to us, our productivity, health, longevity, and wellbeing than we give it credit.
Many of us feel that sleep is simply a waste of time. There is nothing productive about the act of sleeping. In fact, for anyone who wants to ‘live’ their life, sleep is what takes away hours of ‘experiencing’ life and replaces it with ‘inactivity.’
In today’s busy world, sleep is the last thing that comes to our mind when we think of our well-being. And sleep is what we sacrifice the most to meet the ever-growing demands of our lives.
During our waking hours, the brain and body consume a lot of energy to continuously interact with the outside world. This is very important for our survival. We think, talk, move, work, play – everything requires us to be alert and energized.
During sleep, we cut down our interaction with the outside world and give our body and brain the chance to focus on the inside world. Many things happen in the background without us being aware of it.
What happens when we end up with sleep deprivation?
During sleep, our body runs a lot of processes that involve restoration and regeneration – the different cells reset and work on optimizing their functions. The body achieves a state of homeostasis. Anything too high or too low is brought back to ‘normal’ levels.
Compromise on this, and we have a body with cells and organs that are not functionally at their best. If organs goof up, the systems they make, goof up too. Worried about your thyroid, your pancreas, your ovaries, your liver, your gut, your brain, your skin? Give them a sleep boost.
The brain gets to relax and process the information it collected throughout the day, keeping the important ones, clearing out the garbage, and also getting rid of all the neuro-toxins that got built up during the day.
Memory and cognitive thinking
The areas of the brain related to memory, thinking, decision making get restored. We function better the next day – better focus, better memory, better productivity.
Compromise on this, and we have difficulty recollecting, concentrating, being creative, making critical decisions, and taking quick actions- we compromise our sharpness, intelligence, and productivity.
The areas of the brain which are related to emotional regulation are restored, and that reflects in us having a better mood
Compromise on this, and two things happen,
Parts of our brain which act as a ‘fire alarm/ threat detection’ get overactive. We see threats anywhere and everywhere, and we easily get overwhelmed and triggered by events and people.
Parts of our brain which act as ‘wise controllers/ moderators/ thinkers’ get underactive- we can’t think clearly, take constructive decisions or control our impulses.
Combine both, and we get over-emotional, over-critical, frustrated, angry, hurt, impulsive – not a great combination.
Sleep helps regulate our blood pressure, sugar levels, satiety levels, and energy levels.
Compromise on the hormonal health, and we have fluctuating insulin levels that make us feel less energetic and crankier. We have heart rate and blood pressure higher than normal. If we add the effects of damaged vasculature as we age, it is a recipe for blocked arteries, heart attack, or stroke.
The balance between two hormones that control our appetite — leptin, and ghrelin gets disturbed. Leptin signals us that we are full, and Ghrelin signals us that we are hungry. Leptin gets suppressed by lack of sleep, and Ghrelin goes up. Add the effects of fluctuating insulin and blood glucose levels, and we end up craving more food and eating extra 200–300 calories per day.
So, the less you sleep, the less energy you have, the more you over-eat, the less likely you are to have an active life or work out regularly. This is the perfect formula for weight gain, and side effects of sleep deprivation.
The data says that an average adult needs anywhere from 7 to 9 hours of sleep. This may slightly vary for every person, and we all have an instinctive knowledge about the hours we really need to invest in sleep to feel rested and fresh the next day.
Our body adapts very quickly to the demands we keep putting on it, and perhaps that’s why we miss out on the subtle signs of sleep deprivation that happens when we don’t get enough sleep for a few days.
We ignore the slight changes – the way we crave more comfort foods, the way we get irritated or stressed for small things, the way we cannot focus on something for long, the way we feel lack of energy, or the way our body hurts.
We tend to put these signs under the carpet and consider it a ‘normal part’ of our lives.
There are times in our lives when we really have to stand up and meet the demands of the challenges we face – an emergency, an important assignment, taking care of our loved ones, etc.
But sometimes, we devalue our sleep schedule to do things that might not be as important to us in the long run. We stay up late when
For anyone who is trying to control their food cravings, manage their sugar levels, normalize their fluctuating blood pressure, manage their PMS symptoms, battle depression or anxiety, lose weight, become more productive, increase their energy levels or lead a balanced and healthy life, managing the quality of sleep is an essential factor. Sleep deprivation is your enemy.
We feel sleep just happens the moment we hit the bed or something we crib about not coming despite us wanting to sleep like a baby. Most of us feel that we have too much on our plates to start a strict regime focusing on minute details of our sleeping rituals. But like eating or working, our sleep has a pattern, a structure, a routine.
Our body and brain love structure. They thrive on having a routine. This forms a behavioral pattern that gets hardwired in our brain- we operate almost 90% on “automatic mode” (a fascinating human trait that I plan to discuss with you soon).
We all have our own routines – whether we know it not. They might be constructive or destructive – but they are definitely there.
When we wake up, we have a routine that we follow. We follow our habits when it comes to eating, working, in our interactions with others, and also when it comes to our bed-time.
When it comes to our sleeping routine, keeping ourselves too busy late into the night, interacting on social media, over-thinking, or not having a fixed routine are habits that we might have formed by constant practice.
It’s time we intentionally work on improving our pre-sleep habits.
The most effective way is to have a straightforward yet fixed sleep ritual that would help us unwind and cue the body and brain to relax and let go of all the thoughts related to events that happened during the day or might happen during the coming days.
This 15-minute video provides a quick unwind routine that can help you connect with your body and relax:
Compromising on the quality of sleep is very similar to running any machine for years without a proper service schedule – ‘compromised quality of life.’
Let’s prioritize our well-being and take a tiny step to change our perspective and habits regarding this most under-valued factor of our well-being.
Let’s give sleep the importance it deserves in our lives.
Sleep peacefully, in the comfort of your dreams.
Wake up feeling rested and with a smile on your face, all set to win your day.
First published here.
Image source: Wavebreakmedia from Getty Images Pro Free for Canva Pro
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