Written by Kelly Couture, MEd, LPC-S
Everyday, I hear people say things like, “I wish I could just take a nap” or “I am running on fumes!” Maybe you feel that way too! If so, you are not alone. Studies suggest that one out of three Americans do not get enough sleep. In fact, on a more serious note, half of Americans will experience insomnia (meaning habitual sleeplessness or inability to sleep) at some point in life and one in ten Americans develop chronic insomnia.
Sleep deficiency not only makes us feel rundown, but it can also lead to more serious problems physically. A lack of restful sleep can lead to significant health complications: high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, diabetes and kidney disease, and can lead to inflammation, to name a few.
When we do not get enough sleep, we are at higher risk for injuries and accidents as we are not as alert as we could otherwise be. For example, feeling tired while driving could lead to motor vehicle accidents because of decreased reaction time and attention to the road.
There is a lot going on internally that can lead to these diseases and bodily harm. Chemicals such as Ghrelin, Leptin and Cortisol play a role. Ghrelin is a hormone that helps the body feel hungry and levels decrease during sleep to let you know that you do not need extra energy/fuel. Sleep deficiency increases Ghrelin levels, which can lead to snacking even when one is not hungry. Conversely, there is a hormone called Leptin which leads us to feeling full. During sleep, Leptin increases to let you know that you are full enough and have enough energy. Poor sleep can disrupt these hormone levels and send signals that we need food when we really may not. Lastly, the hormone Cortisol can impact us greatly. As the sun rises, the body begins to release Cortisol which prepares the body to wake up. It can also help control blood sugar levels, regulate metabolism, and assist with memory formulation. However, it is possible that poor sleep could lead to higher than needed Cortisol levels which leads to anxiety, increased blood pressure, immunosuppression, insulin utilization issues, etc.
Lack of sleep can take a toll on our mental health by contributing to depression, anxiety, irritability, relationship problems, etc. Sleep deficiency attacks our quality of life by causing us to feel worn out leading to a decrease in motivation and productivity. This can spiral into an attack on our self esteem as we are not feeling as able to get things done. The aforementioned stress hormones rise when we are anxious/irritable which can lead to even more problems sleeping. This is quite the vicious cycle!
So, what can be done to aid in obtaining a better and more restful night’s sleep? Recommendations start with laying down in a cool, dark, quiet and comfortable sleep space which is used solely for sleep and consensual sexual activities. Of note, sex has been shown to release oxytocin, dopamine, prolactin, and progesterone and these chemicals can lead to a sense of comfort, relaxation, and drowsiness! Sadly, lack of sleep can lead to diminished libido, another cycle that is decidedly not considered pleasant.
A few other recommendations for a good night’s sleep are to:
1) Cut off screen time a few hours before bed (televisions, computers and phones). The light from these devices can trick our minds/bodies into thinking it is time to rise and shine! Consider even turning a bright alarm clock away from you at night for the same reason.
2) Keep wake times and bedtimes consistent, even on the weekends, so that the mind/body has a routine to follow.
3) Consider nighttime rituals such as a warm bath, herbal tea, etc. that prepare our bodies/minds to rest.
4) Monitor caffeine/nicotine/alcohol/heavy or sugary foods prior to bed to avoid altering natural hormone levels necessary for sleep.
5) Include nutritious foods in your diet to keep the body producing naturally occurring chemicals/hormones at optimal levels for overall health. However, try to avoid eating a couple of hours before going to bed.
6) Engage in physical movement and time outside in the fresh air and sunshine. However, try to avoid strenuous physical activity a few hours before sleeping.
Your body AND your mind will thank you for the efforts you make toward a healthy and restful night of sleep. Sweet Dreams!
Kelly Couture is a Licensed Professional Counselor (Supervisor) who works at both of our newly opened Dallas offices! Kelly has practiced in the field of mental health for 20+ years and has experience not only with providing direct behavioral health care to individuals, couples, families and groups, but also in supervising counseling interns and licensed clinicians.