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Your brain is hard at work all day – solving problems, recalling facts, processing new information, and engaging in social interactions. Sleep is the only time your brain has a real chance to purge toxins and recover from a busy day.
But when you’re chronically sleep deprived, those toxins accumulate. The buildup can alter your brain and lead to impaired function, ADD, memory loss, a compromised immune system, and a host of other problems:
People who sleep five hours or less a night may be at greater risk of developing high blood pressure or worsening already high blood pressure. There's also an increased risk of high blood pressure for people who sleep between five and six hours a night.
There is some evidence of a connection between insufficient sleep and the risk of developing cancer. Researchers suspect that a disruption in the circadian rhythm could pose a risk, since the body's internal clock impacts so many biological functions. Scientists have seen this connection in animal studies: when they control the sleep/wake cycles of rodents for an extended time, cancers grow faster.
Insomnia may lead to depression and feelings of anxiety, exhaustion, and an inability to concentrate.
Your metabolism slows down and doesn’t expend the energy necessary to avoid weight gain. It goes into idle mode and doesn’t burn as many calories.
Your fight-or-flight response kicks in and your cortisol levels rise. Cortisol is a stress hormone, and elevated levels can burn out your adrenal glands and increase your appetite.
You have 20% more Ghrelin – the hormone that makes you hungry – when you are sleep deprived.
You have 15% less Leptin – the hormone that makes you want to stop eating – when you are sleep deprived.
Driving sleep-deprived is the equivalent of driving while intoxicated. One out of six fatal car crashes is the result of sleep deprivation, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Sleep deprivation is both a quantity and a quality issue. Adults between the ages of 18 and 64 should get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night, or an average of eight hours of uninterrupted slumber. Unfortunately, so many of us (40+ million Americans) suffer from either poor quality sleep or lack of sleep, putting us at risk for the problems listed above.
How can you get the sleep your body needs to feel replenished, be more productive, and ward off serious health conditions? Here are seven very easy techniques that will help you fall asleep faster and enjoy longer, more restorative rest.
A refreshing night of rest begins with the right routine. To train the brain that it’s time to enter sleep mode, be consistent with your nighttime habits. For example, keeping the same bedtime (and wake time) is one of the top ways to keep your body clock on track. Other signals, like changing into your pajamas, brushing your teeth, or reading a book in bed, can also send a sleep signal to the brain. A consistent bedtime routine makes a big difference in whether you get a five-star snooze or another sleepless night.
To zone out, some people like to zen out. Before turning in for the night, unplug with a little meditation. Pick a mantra and repeat it silently to yourself for around ten minutes. Meditation is an outstanding way to clear and quiet the mind, which allows the body’s natural sleep mechanisms to kick in.
A hot room is a room that’s hard to sleep in; to induce sleep, your core body temperature needs to drop. According to the National Sleep Foundation, your bedroom should be on the cooler side – between 60 and 67 degrees – for optimal sleep. If your body temperature remains too high, falling asleep may be a challenge.
To promote sleep onset and prevent your body from overheating while you sleep, there are cooling mattresses designed to deflect heat, cooling sheets designed to wick away moisture, and even moisture-wicking pajamas. A ceiling fan or an oscillating floor fan also can give you a little extra cooling relief at night.
For most people, falling asleep fast and easy comes down to unplugging. Bright lights send a message to the body to stay alert and attentive, and the blue light emitted by screens can be especially sleep-disrupting. It’s always a good idea to stop using tech gadgets, like smartphones, tablets, or laptops, an hour before bed.
If you want to read before bed, turn on a soft, dim light. To minimize outdoor light, consider installing black curtains on the windows or wearing an eye mask. Anything with lighted numbers or dials, even those from a cable box or alarm clock, should be turned away from you while you sleep.
Prescription sleeping pills can combat sleep deprivation, but are an unhealthy option for long-term use, as these drugs can be habit-forming. However, there are some safe, highly effective natural sleep aids that you may already have in your pantry:
Almonds: if you have a late-night craving, almonds and other nuts contain magnesium, a mineral that helps to slow brain activity in preparation for sleep.
Chamomile: known for its sedative properties, chamomile can be steeped into tea for a soothing nighttime beverage. Add one to two teaspoons of raw honey for additional help unwinding. The natural sugar found in honey allows tryptophan, an amino acid with a calming effect, to enter the brain more easily.
Cherry juice: tart cherries are a natural source of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate your sleep-wake clock. Research shows that drinking tart cherry juice increases levels of melatonin, helping improve both sleep quality and duration.
This herb, consisting of little purple flower buds, is good for many things, including sleep. Research has shown that lavender is sleep-promoting; specifically with slow-wave sleep, the deepest phase of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. Lavender aromatherapy is also helpful in improving sleep for those with restless leg syndrome. One study found that massaging the legs with lavender essential oil reduced restless feelings, while also improving sleep quality.
There are many ways to reap the benefits of this sleep problem-solver. Try spraying a lavender spray on your pillowcase, massaging lavender oil into your temples, or use an essential oil diffuser with lavender while you sleep.
Exercise has been shown to improve sleep quality, increase sleep duration, and help insomnia and other sleep disorders. Physical activity increases the time spent in deep sleep – the most physically restorative sleep phase – which helps boost immune function, support cardiac health, and control stress and anxiety. Because you expend energy when you exercise, it helps you feel more tired and ready for bed at the end of the day.
Although 30 minutes of exercise is ideal, even a simple 10-minute walk on a regular basis is enough to enhance the quality and duration of your sleep.
When you make sleep sacred in your life, you can enjoy more productive days, while lowering your risk for obesity and other troubling health conditions. Thankfully, there are many simple, prescription-free ways to get the shut-eye your body deserves. Rely on these seven tips, as well as a balanced lifestyle, and you’ll set yourself up for a restful night’s sleep, every night.
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