Allow me to confess for a moment: my best efforts to find balance in my life – whatever that is – seem to erode the things that I always seem to want to do more of. If I try to spend more time with my family, I rest less. If I commit to walking the dog, I sleep less. And yet I don’t bother trying to convince myself that I’m alone in this plight: none of us get enough rest.
We don’t have to fall asleep sitting in the waiting room to know that we’re tired. Other symptoms of insufficient sleep include fatigue, low energy levels, irritability, high stress levels, indecisiveness, poor dietary choices, and so on. So, does this sound familiar yet? A show of hands: how many of us know the barista at Starbucks by name?
Quite simply: we pack too much into the day, and we expect too much of ourselves when we fall short, so we look for ways to increase our abilities to do things that we know we cannot maintain. In essence: our way didn’t work, so we need to try our way harder – right? Hmmm. Let’s sleep on it.
We all intellectually understand that ample sleep is a critical part of life. So why don’t we do it? Not only is it necessary to be able to perform the things we’re engaged in and enjoy, but it also is crucial in maintaining a healthy weight and staying healthy, period. Staying healthy, we’re told, depends on good nutrition and exercise. But when did we lose sight of the fact that our bodies need sleep to be able to repair, recuperate, and rebuild?
Sleep is not merely about controlling our appetites, preventing weight gain, and providing more energy. Less sleep leads to bad dietary choices, increased stress levels, and all the other things we’ve listed above. So, it’s not only that a lack of sleep deprives us of what we need, it introduces things into our lives that we don’t need. The long-term effects from exhaustion trigger fat storage regardless of what diet we’re trying.
Moreover, research has shown that insufficient sleep can counter weight loss efforts and mimic low insulin sensitivity and high blood sugar levels. Even when we are stellar at eating right and exercising, we cede our progress to sleeping less than we need and sacrificing the time for our bodies to recover from the infinite demands we place on them.
Recent research from the National Sleep Foundation has shown that sleeping 6 hours a night – as opposed to the 7-9 that we need – increases our chances of obesity by 23%. Sleeping 5 hours each night increases that risk to 50%. And sleeping 4 hours? Our chances of obesity rise by 73%! So, what to do?
- Try to stop drinking 2 hours before you lay down – waking up for a bathroom run ruins good sleep patterns.
- If you wake up a few hours after falling asleep, trying to give up alcohol to see if it has an effect – alcohol’s effects severely disrupt sleep patterns and quality.
- It’s a good idea to have a journal in your bedside table that you can list your stressors in – quiet the mind.
- Look at your sleep environment: flip the mattress, adjust the temperature, get new pillows, turn off the devices before you get into bed.
- Quit drinking caffeinated beverages in the evenings. In fact, look for herbal teas and oils which promote relaxation and sleep (lavender is a personal favorite).
- Try to avoid medication as a solution to getting more sleep – solving one problem may create a host of other serious problems.
- Most importantly: schedule your bedtime. We schedule every other important appointment, we can schedule this, too!
If we can incorporate all of this into our lives and continue to struggle, then it may be time for a check up or sleep study. Undiagnosed and untreated sleep disorders are more common than we think and can have a profound effect on our lives. It never hurts to consult a specialist.