The world is stressful, and it can be hard to get a good night’s sleep. Here’s a stressful thought for you: lack of sleep causes many serious health problems, in addition to causing vehicle and workplace accidents.
Our bodies mostly heal and rehabilitate themselves while we sleep, producing the hormones and chemical processes we’ll need during our waking hours. Work and family stress cause many people sleepless nights; others experience insomnia from overuse of a stimulant like caffeine.
Here are five ways that lack of sleep affects your health.
1. Heart Health and Sleep
The human heart is under immense stress, even on an average day. Sleep is when our hearts heal themselves from inflammation and other damage, allowing blood to flow more easily through our vessels.
Sleep issues can increase your risk or even cause strokes, heart attacks, and hypertension. The CDC recommends at least seven hours of sleep per night to combat high blood pressure, obesity, and other strains on your heart.
2. Lack of Sleep Affects Your Brain Functions
Your brain’s performance affects your health in countless ways: your energy level, mood, and memory all diminish when you sleep fewer than 7-9 hours.
Everyone is familiar with “brain fog”: the mornings and afternoons where you “just can’t seem to get it together.” Lack of sleep is the primary cause of this mental haze.
Sleep opens your brain’s neuron pathways, improving your long-term memory. Without sufficient sleep, your concentration and mood can fluctuate wildly throughout the day. Prolonged insomnia can cause mood disorders like anxiety, paranoia, and depression.
3. Lack of Sleep Can Make You Sick
Much like your brain responds to insomnia, your immune system is not operating at full-power. Failing to get enough sleep, the immune system does not produce the cytokines that attack bacteria, fungi, and viruses throughout the day.
Insomnia lowers your immune system’s ability to fight infections. Seniors and other groups with existing immune system issues need optimal sleep, urgently. Untreated insomnia is a serious condition, and a huge potential risk during the COVID pandemic.
4. Digestion and Healthy Sleep
Dietary health, or “regularity,” is one of the keys to overall health. Many people, even athletes, don’t know that their sleep schedule is what is sabotaging their weight-loss and fitness goals.
Lack of sleep affects your body’s hormone production. When you don’t sleep enough, the body won’t produce sufficient leptin and ghrelin–the hormones that tell your brain to stop eating, and tell your body it is full, respectively. This is detailed further in Healing Hands Chiropractic’s article about sleep health.
5. Poor Sleep and Hormone Deficiencies
Sleep problems affect everyone from school-age to retirement, and hormone imbalances are some of the most common. Poor sleep can stunt children’s growth and physical maturation; later in life, insomnia can cause low testosterone in men and early menopause in women.
Our endocrine systems need sleep to produce hormones that keep us healthy. The primary male reproductive hormone, testosterone, is only produced when a man gets at least three hours of deep sleep.
Tools to Address Your Sleep Issues
Not everybody needs, or should use, medication to deal with their sleep issues.
Insomnia can be caused by many factors, so it’s a good idea to seek a medical professional’s opinion regarding any sleep problems. The following are some tried-and-true techniques to improve sleep, as well as to protect you from the health issues listed above:
- Artificial light tricks your body into being awake. Turn off your phone, television, and any other screens an hour before you sleep. If this isn’t feasible, use a night-mode setting that eliminates blue light.
- Go to bed the same time each night–the earlier,, the better. Our bodies begin to produce melatonin and other hormones each night and stop producing them around 7 in the morning. The Sleep Foundation has an excellent guide to melatonin here.
- Try an herbal tea or supplement; valerian root and passion fruit extract are two popular over-the-counter remedies (consult a doctor before using either).
To anyone suffering from sleep-related health issues: there is help available. Don’t wait to reach out.