Has the past year impacted your sleep? Do you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep for more than an hour or two at a time? Or do you wake up after four or five hours and can't go back to dreamland? You are not alone.
A major factor contributing to sleep deprivation is anxiety, and we are all feeling more of that. Whether you have had to adapt to a work-from-home routine, look for a new job, or learn how to home-school, change is stressful.
7 Dangerous effects of sleep deprivation
1. Heart disease - Lack of sleep inhibits our body's ability to manage stress, leading to an increase in blood pressure, inflammation of the heart, and a faster heart rate.
2. Heart attack / stroke - Long-term high blood pressure can lead to a heart attack by causing a build-up of fat and cholesterol in the arteries, narrowing them and preventing the flow of blood and oxygen through the heart. The slower blood flow also affects vessels to the brain which can lead to clotting and a stroke.
3. Memory loss / brain function - The brain uses your "down-time" to re-boot. It converts your short-term memories from the day into long-term memories available for recall at a later time. Sleep deprivation affects your ability to solve problems, make decisions and control emotions. It also can wreak havoc with your balance, motor skills, and reflexes which can result in accidents and injuries.
4. Low immunity - Frequent sleep deprivation interferes with our body's infection-fighting abilities. People who don't get enough sleep on a regular basis tend to get sick more often and take longer to recover.
5. Weight gain - Lack of sleep increases anxiety and stress, which in turn increases cravings for "comfort food" and creates poor eating habits. Compounding the effect is the fatigue you feel after a restless night. Too tired to exercise means more time to eat more food, both healthy and unhealthy options. Overeating plus no physical activity can quickly add up to obesity.
6. Diabetes - A disruption in the processing of glucose and insulin makes sleeplessness a considerable risk factor for type 2 diabetes. If you are overweight and not sleeping well, becoming diabetic is a significant possibility.
7. Anxiety and depression - It's a classic "chicken or the egg" situation. Anxiety and stress interrupts your sleep which impedes your body's ability to handle stress and causes more anxiety. Similarly, an irregular sleeping pattern is a common symptom of depression. Which came first is hard to say.
How do you break the cycle of sleep deprivation? The good news is there are many simple things you can do to get back on track in a fairly short time.
7 tips for sleeping better
1. Set consistent bed time and wake time - Humans are creatures of habit, and setting a sleep schedule will train your body to be ready for sweet dreams.
2. Reduce or eliminate nicotine, caffeine, alcohol, and sugar - And don't eat or drink right before going to bed. Drinking will cause frequent trips to the bathroom, and eating will set the digestive system in motion and exacerbate heartburn.
3. Get regular physical activity - Simply walking around your neighborhood or making several trips up and down the stairs in your home will not only help you sleep better, it will improve your mood, too.
4. Write down your "to do" list for the next day - Taking time in the evening to get tomorrow's tasks out of your head and on paper will reduce anxiety.
5. Meditate or do deep breathing exercises - Having quiet time right before going to bed will allow you to relax and disconnect from your day, preparing your body for rest.
6. Consider sleep supplements - Many adults turn to over-the-counter supplements for short-term relief. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about what options are right for you, especially if you are on medication. Make sure whatever sleep aid you choose comes from a reputable healthcare company.
7. Turn off! Before you turn off the lights, also turn off computers, tablets, phones, and TVs. Limit activities in bed to sex and sleep.
A good night's sleep is vital to your health and well-being, so make it a priority of your daily routine. If your sleep deprivation becomes chronic, see your doctor as this could be a symptom of a medical condition that requires attention.