Sleep 101

Your mind is synced with your circadian rhythm and sleep quality equals health quality. Research suggests that there are both short- and long-term health consequences of poor sleep—from mental fatigue to auto-immune issues and even early death. 

Thanks to job demands, electronic devices, Netflix, and the other various distractions and anxieties that come with modern life, sleep quality and duration are declining among the American population. Many experts agree that this widespread lack of sleep is becoming an epidemic.

We all know how hard it is to tackle the day after a bad night’s sleep, but do you understand the true clinical consequences of chronic sleep deprivation? At first, the symptoms may manifest as a general sense of malaise that keeps us from taking care of ourselves. Over time, the effects of sleep loss can add up and contribute to a vast range of mental and physical disorders—some of which may be severe. Fortunately, researchers have been investigating the effects of sleep on our minds and bodies to better understand the impact of sleep deprivation, as well as what a “good night” of sleep entails and how to achieve it.

What happens to your body during sleep?

When you go to sleep, your cells reenergize, hormone production regulates, muscle tissue grows and repairs, waste is cleared from the brain and your learning and memory mechanisms undergo routine maintenance. Without sleep, your mind and body skip these crucial physiological processes, and your body’s natural mechanisms go haywire. This results in chronic stress. 

As the amount of peer-reviewed sleep research grows, scientists increasingly suggest that under-sleeping could be even worse for your body and heart health than eating a bad diet or not getting enough exercise.

Wondering if you are having issues related to a poor night’s sleep? Here are some of the short-term symptoms that might not immediately seem connected:  

  • Higher levels of stress
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Memory and concentration issues
  • Low energy
  • Frequent colds and flu
  • Weight gain

Sleep disruptions & short sleep durations

Whether your sleep is simply being disrupted in the night, or you’re sleeping a less-than-ideal amount, the research yields the same conclusion: It’s bad news. A study investigating the impact of sleep disruptions on health found that poor sleep schedules may also result in severe long-term issues including obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and even heart problems. These findings also mirror studies that measure the impact of shorter-than-ideal sleep durations, hinting at the overall sensitivity of sleep architecture, and the importance of sleeping soundly throughout the night to maintain good health.

What is causing your sleeping troubles?

Sleep disruption can arise from behavioral tendencies such as being a night owl, from environmental elements like the noises and lights of city life or from psychological unrest. To people experiencing recurrent insomnia or disrupted sleep, researchers and health experts advise addressing environmental and psychological culprits before resorting to pharmacological solutions. Individuals can take agency over the range of variables that influence sleep stability and duration, such as the nature of the bedroom environment, surrounding lights, noise or temperature, as well as medication use, drug or alcohol consumption. Underlying root causes like anxiety or depression, for example, can play a role in how one sleeps as well. However, sleep behavior is complex, and it often requires a deep reflection on various other areas of our lives to understand what promotes a restfulness night, and what doesn’t.

Sleep is solitary: It requires you to disconnect.

We may live in a world that demands our attention, but our minds and bodies require us to unplug at night to achieve proper rest. The easiest change you can make is to put your phone on silent and turn off any distractions well before you head to bed.

Think you might be having sleep troubles? If you want to get control of your sleep, but aren’t sure where to start, you can begin by reading a couple of Nano’s other articles including this one and this one. You may also want to complement your lifestyle changes with a natural sleep aid such as valerian root, chamomile tea, tart cherries, or a lavender topical balm. If your condition is more serious, you may be suffering from chronic insomnia or sleep apnea and, as is the case with any severe health issue, there is no substitute for consulting your doctor.

Lengthening and routinizing your sleep schedule may not fix every problem in your life, but it’s often the first step to achieving greater mental and physical well-being. With stronger boundaries between your pillow and the outer world, waking up healthier and happier is possible. It also might save your life.