We’ve become a culture that prides itself on business and sleepless nights, and we tend to neglect the crucial facts of what lack of sleep can do to negatively impact your health and well-being.
Sleep in numbers
Although we don’t know all the exact specifics on why we sleep, we do know through research that on average, humans need between 6-8 hours of quality sleep per night.RELATED: RECOMMENDED PLANS FOR YOU
We also know that only about 30% of the population gets the recommended amount of sleep, and that our neglect to get enough rest has created a serious public health epidemic.
Priding ourselves on being unhealthy
Not getting the recommended shut eye we need causes severe problems such as bloodshot eyes, increased blood pressure and weight gain. But what’s just as disturbing are the negative side-effects this bad habit has on the brain.
1. Memory loss and false memories: Studies show that lack of sleep impairs the brain’s long-term memory as well as misinformed observations made through past memories.
2. Emotional processing imbalances: Thanks to lack of sleep, certain areas of your brain that help regulate emotional control begin miscommunicating, leading to emotional instability and irrationality.
3. Slurred speech and impaired wit: Certain cognitive processes like being able to hold fluid conversations and processing language become debilitated for those who skimp on sleep.
4. Poor and risky decision making: The area of your brain responsible for rational decision-making becomes underactive in sleep-deprived individuals, and areas of your brain responsible for fear and desire become overactive.
This results in impaired judgement and can lead to undesirable decisions such as over-eating the candy stashed in your cupboard (aka: weight gain!).
5. Hallucinations: A rested brain has the ability to control sensory overload and separates what is relevant from what isn’t. Not getting enough sleep can interfere with this process and cause people to anticipate things and objects that aren’t there.
6. Loss of Focus: When sleep is sacrificed, the part of the brain linked to attention span is compromised, making it easier to lose focus when bored.
7. Brain Damage: Repetitive nights, weeks, months and years of lack of sleep can kill brain cells. This can result in permanent damage, making the term ‘catching up on sleep’ completely irrelevant.
So, what can you do starting right now?
Make changes to your lifestyle NOW and watch the results fall into place.
Limit caffeine consumption
Refrain from drinking any caffeine up to 8 hours before you hit the sack to ensure you aren’t restless during the night. This is especially relevant for those who are easily stimulated by caffeine’s stimulating side-effects.
Use lighting to your benefit
Avoid or strongly limit bright light such as television, cell phones or computers a couple hours before going to sleep.
Instead, use dimmer lights and create a calming environment you can easily settle down and relax in. Wear a sleep mask for your eyes or install black-out window shades to increase likelihood of deep sleep.
Controlling your light exposure properly will regulate your circadian rhythm and will train your brain and body for consistent wake and sleep cycles.
Wake up and go to sleep at the same time everyday
Keep a consistent sleep/wake schedule even on days off work, and get to bed around the same time each night to enable your brain and body to create a lasting habit.
You may have heard that exercising can give you more energy during the day, but did you know it can also help you sleep better at night? True story.
For optimal results, finish exercising at least 3 hours before bedtime to allow your nervous system to calm. Bonus points for choosing activities such as yoga or gentle stretching to promote relaxation and sleep.
What you drink at night matters
Drinking alcohol before bed can feel relaxing while you are awake, but it’s proven to interfere with your sleep schedule when you are asleep. Just as well, drinking too many liquids of any kind right before bed can disrupt sleep patterns as well by resulting in frequent trips to the bathroom.
If and when possible, cut off all major liquid consumption a couple hours before bed to guide yourself into an uninterrupted slumber.
If you have trouble relaxing or find you are restless while trying to wind down, try any of the following suggestions: Deep breathing exercises, meditation, reading, progressive muscle relaxation, or visualizing a peaceful or restful place that makes you overcome with calmness.
Improve your sleep environment
Create your perfect sleep sanctuary with just a few tweaks! Keep noise down by closing windows, turning down TVs or any other electronics, and use earplugs if necessary.
Keep your room cool to optimize sleep by keeping the temperature at night at or around 65 degrees Fahrenheit. And make sure your bed and pillow are comfortable and provide proper support for your body.
Staying informed in the first step, but it’s not enough without action. By incorporating some or all of the steps above, you can see drastic changes in sleep patterns and health.
Sleep isn’t a daily function to take lightly, and deadly consequences over time can have a negative impact on how your brain functions and affects the rest of your well-being and life.
Don’t settle on being a statistic.
Make your brain health as much a priority as any other ‘job’ in your life by ‘working’ your 8 hours each night and watch yourself elevate to new heights!
Connect with Expert Emma Pietrzak