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I’d Rather Be Sleeping: The Truth Behind Sleep and Overall Health

When is the last time you got a full, uninterrupted 8 hours of sleep? Last night? Last week? Last year?

According to research, between 38-41% of Michiganders get less than 7 hours of sleep on a consistent basis. Furthermore, 70% of adults across the United States reported having insufficient sleep at least one night per month and 11% reported insufficient sleep every night.

What is most interesting to me though, is that I’m not sure I have met someone who does not like sleep. In fact, I may even have conversations on the daily with people regarding how much we love sleep or how we wish we were sleeping at any given moment or how we might fall asleep if we have to sit through one more meeting that could have been an email.

If this is the case, then why aren’t we sleeping?

First, technology. With electricity and technological advances at the tips of our fingers at any given moment (instant gratification), we seem to always be in front of a screen. (See the Screen Time blog for more information). While being in front of a screen, whether that is a television, computer, tablet, phone, or gaming system, the artificial lighting tricks our brains into thinking that we need to be awake and remain alert. Exposure to this blue light can also reduce melatonin, a hormone that is released in time with the sun and aids in falling asleep. So, if this hormone is reduced, the body is less likely to be able to fall asleep as easily.

Second, nutrition. What we put into our body directly affects the quality of sleep and overall wellness. Researchers have found that eating and drinking highly processed carbohydrates, such as pasta, candy, energy drinks, and other foods with significant amounts of added sugar are associated with poor sleep quality. This can also be said for caffeine within 6 hours of attempting to go to sleep, as it is a stimulant and can remain in your body hours after consumption, in addition to alcohol. Even though alcohol is considered a depressant and often makes people sleepy, the quality of sleep after drinking is significantly decreased.

Third, to do lists. People today are attempting to cram more into their 24 hours than any other generation before us. The expectations that society has placed on us seem nearly impossible:

Get 7-9 hours of sleep, get up early to exercise, make a nutritious breakfast for you and your family, pack nutritious lunches, meal prep dinner, go to work for (at least) 8 hours, pick the kids up from soccer practice, make dinner, find time for self-care, spend time with your significant other, make sure to fit in time with friends. The list goes on and on.

Even though we cannot create more hours in the day, it is imperative to prioritize the quality of our sleep as our overall health can be put at risk.

With prolonged sleep deprivation you may experience memory problems, trouble with thinking and concentration, unexpected mood changes, weakened immunity, high blood pressure, weight gain, low sex drive, poor balance, and a higher risk of diabetes and experiencing more accidents due to lesser brain function. In addition to these physical issues, your mental health can greatly be affected by a lack of sleep and may be attributed to increased anxiety, depression, or onset of more severe mental health diagnoses, such as psychosis. In other words, if you go long periods with little to no sleep you may begin to hear or see things that other people may not see or hear. Essentially, without the proper amount of sleep, your brain is not able to function as optimally or efficiently as it possibly can, resulting in a lower quality of life for yourself.

So where do we start?

Begin by creating a sleep schedule or assigning yourself a “bedtime” and “waketime”. Setting this boundary for yourself is important to create a routine by going to bed and waking up around the same time every day, yes even on weekends, holidays, and vacations! Your body thrives on consistency and panics under chaos, so sticking to your bedtime and waketime will allow your body to prepare itself on its own, without any extra work from you!

Once you have your sleep times set, use the hour or two prior to your bedtime to wind down. During this time, refrain from drinking caffeine or alcohol or eating refined sugary snacks. Instead opt for water or a piece of fruit if you feel hungry. Instead of watching television or looking at your phone during this wind down time, opt for a book or magazine or playing a game with your kids or significant other. Sharing this quality time is far more important than watching a screen anyway!

As with any lifestyle change, it is important to start small, as we are more likely to sustain the behavior long term as opposed to completely overhauling your evening schedule. Make one change that you feel you can consistently do. Once you are able to consistently achieve that goal, add another step to your sleep preparatory process.

It should also be noted that it may take time for your body to adjust to these new changes, so be patient with your body and encourage it to get back on track. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day!

Let’s continue the conversation down below or over on our social media at ZENlightenment Wellness on Facebook and Instagram. Which adjustments are you going to make to your sleep schedule first? What has worked or hasn’t worked for you in the past? Why or why not?

As always have a wonderful, healthy day.


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