Do you ever find yourself falling asleep in the day, unable to concentrate at the wheel or at the computer? Chances are you are not getting enough sleep at night. Are you setting enough hours aside to enjoy 8 hours of restful sleep, or do you see sleep as an overestimated luxury?
A recent survey found that more people are sleeping less than six hours a night, and sleep difficulties visit 75% of us at least a few nights per week. Whilst a short-lived bout of insomnia may be manageable, and maybe due to a circumstance such as jet lag.
The bigger concern is chronic sleep loss, which can contribute to health problems such as weight gain, high blood pressure, and a decrease in the immune system’s power to fight infection.
So not enough sleep could be making you ill? Did you know your sleep deprivation could also be having an impact on your career? Studies show that poor sleepers receive fewer promotions, have increased rates of absenteeism, and tend to demonstrate poor productivity (Leigh JP 1991; Rajput V et al 1999).
It’s first important to understand the connection between insomnia and diseases, researchers have conducted studies examining the levels of various chemical signals (called cytokines) in sleep and insomnia. They have discovered that nighttime secretion of the cytokine interleukin-6 is significantly increased in patients with primary insomnia (Burgos I et al 2005). Interleukin-6 is a pro-inflammatory cytokine that is linked to cardiovascular and other diseases. Researchers have found that lack of sleep correlates with interleukin-6 production both day and night, which might also explain why so many insomniacs experience daytime sleepiness: interleukin-6 is involved in regulating sleep (Vgontzas AN et al 2005). Additional studies have found that tumor necrosis factor, another pro-inflammatory cytokine, is increased in insomniacs during the daytime and that levels of these two cytokines are closely related to the level of fatigue experienced (Vgontzas AN et al 2002). These findings mean that insomnia may promote a constant state of low-grade inflammation that may accelerate many diseases of aging.
Melatonin is a hormone released by the pineal gland in response to the absence of light. Its release into the bloodstream triggers a chain of events that promotes sleep. So going to sleep with the light on, even a light from an alarm clock can impact the production of melatonin, thus impacting your ability to sleep.
5htp is a compound synthesized from the amino acid tryptophan is a precursor to the neurotransmitters serotonin and melatonin. As well as impacting sleep, these neurotransmitters also impact mood and appetite.
So what can you do to improve your sleep/wake cycle thus improving your health and wellbeing?
Eating a diet rich in tryptophan:
- Cottage cheese
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sesame seeds
Avoid stimulants, tea, coffee and coke as well as alcohol
Turn off all computers, televisions and phones an hour before bedtime; these stimulate the sympathetic nervous system that encourages the ‘fight and flight’ response as opposed to the para-sympathetic ‘rest and digest’ response.
Keep your bedroom as a sanctuary for sleep. Do not have a television in it, keep it free of clutter and keep the room well aired throughout the day.
Engage in relaxing activities before bed, mindful meditation, burning candles or essential oils, listening to relaxing music.
Go to bed between 9 and 10 pm allowing 8 hours sleep.
Remember sleep is an essential part of your journey towards wellness.