Every one of us has experienced sleep deprivation, to some degree, at some point in our lifetime. But do you truly know how this disruption affects the body? Let’s discuss the effects of poor sleep, the different stages of sleep and their importance, list the major contributors that lead to poor sleep, and provide tips on how you can get optimal rest.
1 in 4 Americans develops insomnia each year. (1) Many of which recover suffering mild cases of drowsiness, irritability, and/or lack of focus. These short-term effects are relatively easy to overcome by getting a good night's rest. However, there is more concern for those who suffer from chronic sleep deprivation. Those effects can impair how the body functions and can include some of the following.
Effects of Chronic Poor Sleep
Heart Disease (2)
Excessive body weight & obesity (3)
Type 2 Diabetes (4)
Mood disorders (5)
Over the years, much emphasis has been put on sleep, recognizing it as vital for proper metabolic function and the recharging of our bodies. So how can we ensure we are getting enough quality sleep? Let's first take a look at the different stages and learn the function of each.
Sleep has traditionally been divided into two main categories: REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and NREM (no REM). For the sake of this conversation, let's focus on three: Light, REM, and Deep. Each of these plays a critical role in maintaining our mental and physical health.
50% of total sleep time for adults
Typically starts the sleep cycle
Aids in recovery and re-energizing the bodY
Muscles relax and may jerk
Body temperature drops
Heart rate decreases
Easy to wake up
5-50% of total sleep time
The optimal amount for healthy adults is around 1.5 hours
Associated with dreaming, memory consolidation, and creativity
The body becomes immobile to stop you from acting out dreams
Plays an important role in re-energizing the mind and body
Recent research shows REM disruption is related to the amount of food consumed, proving that it’s essential for stabilizing food intake (6)
Regulated by circadian rhythms, which is why it’s important to set a sleep routine
Heart rate increase
Temperature regulation is switched off
Between 0-35% of total sleep
On average adults spend 1-1.5 hours of their total sleep time in deep sleep
Most restorative and rejuvenating sleep stage
Blood pressure drops
Heart & breathing rates are steady
Arm and leg muscles are relaxed
Harder to wake up
Muscles grow and repair
The immune system is refreshed
Brain flushes out toxins
Deep sleep typically happens during the early night
Now that we have insight into what the body is doing while we sleep, and we understand just how important sleep is, the next step is to point out what could be contributing to poor sleep. Once we establish sleep disruptors we can make the proper adjustments to ensure we are getting proper rest. Let me start by saying that most of these disruptors are creating a stress response in the body and flooding it with stress hormones that ultimately keep you awake when you should be resting. Knowing this, it’s critical that we learn methods of de-stressing.
Poor Sleep Contributors
Our bodies make hormones that provide us energy, like cortisol and adrenaline, and others that make us sleepy, like melatonin. At the end of the day, our cortisol levels should be coming way down while our melatonin levels start to rise. This signals to the body that it’s time for bed. When the body is stressed, cortisol levels remain high and will keep you up.
Practice stress-reducing exercises like deep breathing, hot and cold therapy, and regular movement to keep your stress hormones in line.
Review the demands for tomorrow well before bed. This may include to-do lists and appointment scheduling. This gives you a chance to put them aside so you’re not thinking about them while lying in bed.
Caffeine increases the level of cortisol in the body. (7) This may be fine in the morning when cortisol is at its peak for the day, but you don’t want to interrupt the natural decline as cortisol levels start to drop throughout the day as it very well could affect your sleep/wake patterns.
Limit yourself to one cup of coffee a day, and avoid other forms of caffeine.
Avoid caffeine after noon. This provides an ample amount of time for your cortisol levels to taper off before bed so that melatonin can be released.
While alcohol may cause someone to fall asleep quicker, it’s been known to reduce the REM stage of sleep. (8) Additionally, the liver has to work hard overnight to metabolize the alcohol raising your body temperature and usually causing you discomfort and restlessness since we sleep more soundly in cooler environments.
Avoid drinking alcohol three hours prior to turning in and if you do choose to drink, make it a low-sugar beverage.
Exposure to blue lights in the latter part of the day can contribute to circadian rhythm disruption. This can cause your body to produce higher levels of cortisol and lower levels of melatonin when winding down for bed.
An hour before sleep dim your lights, and stop looking at screens like the television, computer, iPads, and phones.
You can purchase blue-light-blocking glasses to help keep the "awake" light out.
Eating a Late Dinner
Eating late doesn’t allow your body ample time to digest food causing it to work harder throughout the night when it should be recovering. There is also a chance that foods could come up and cause reflux. Remember, digestion is a north-to-south process and you need to be sitting upright for it to work properly.
Stop eating 2-3 hours prior to bed to give your body enough time to digest.
To recap, getting a full night of sleep is imperative for proper metabolic health and the recharging of our bodies. A disrupted night here or there isn’t going to have lasting impact aside from drowsiness and a lack of focus and motor skills. But getting poor sleep on a chronic more regular basis is linked to many negative health effects like heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. Fortunately we have the power to ensure our bodies are getting the rest it deserves. Remember to stick to a regular sleep schedule, get a full 7-8 hours per night, and avoid napping. Happy sleeping!