4 Reasons Why A Lack of Sleep Is Bad For Us

A woman is sleeping peacefully in bed

Do you have problems falling asleep? How about struggles staying asleep?

My personal history with sleep is a strange one. I used to have extreme night terrors as a child, I would wake the whole house up when I started screaming bloody murder in the middle of the night. This went on from about age 4-7.

But luckily I did grow out of it.

In fact, I used to get so much sleep as a teenager that, like most teenagers, it was rare to see me out of bed before 1pm (that might have had something to do with me staying up all night to talk to a long distance boyfriend, but I digress)

However, once I became an adult, I was frustrated when once again I began to struggle with sleep.

For years now I have suffered from extreme nighttime anxiety. Shutting off the thoughts racing around my brain became such a struggle, so I wasn’t completely surprised when I was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult.

And I know I’m not alone with my sleep struggles. According to the CDC, a third of adults in the U.S. say that they get less than the recommended amount of sleep every night.

But exactly how does sleep affect our wellness? Do we really need sleep anyways? And how do we improve our sleep so we can sleep longer and better at night?

In this post we will look at how sleep affects our total wellness, how sleep deprivation can hurt us, some benefits of sleep, and how to improve our sleep habits.

How does sleep affect wellness?

We have been told for a long time how important sleep is for our overall health, especially our physical health. However, I find there are so many mixed messages floating around out there that it can be difficult to know what to believe. It doesn’t help that some of the largest names in “self-improvement” and “motivation” culture say they only get five or six hours of sleep at night.

As someone with a science and health background, I believe that it is a common myth that people can live on little sleep with no negative side effects.

So how does lack of sleep hurt me?

1) A lack of sleep hurts our physical health

It is a well know fact that sleep plays a critical part in good physical health and our physical self-care.

But did you know that sleep deficiency has been linked to many worrisome health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, depression, high blood pressure, kidney disease, stroke and obesity?

If you really think about it, our bodies need sleep to fully rest and recharge. Just like we need to plug our phones in for the right amount of time, we need to recharge our bodies and minds at night to fully fill up our batteries so we have enough energy to function properly throughout the day.

2) Sleep deprivation isn’t good for our mental health

There are studies that show that lack of sleep can change activity in certain parts of the brain.

It can also make it harder for us to focus, make decisions, solve problems and control our emotion and behavior.

Sleep deficiency has also been linked to many mental health conditions such as suicide and depression.

3) Decreased sleep leads to decreased productivity

When we can’t pay attention and don’t have enough energy, it can lead to a huge lack of motivation and an ability to reach our goals or be our best selves throughout the day.

We will also make more mistakes, take longer to finish our daily tasks and react much slower than normal.

4) Lack of sleep increases our risk of injuries

This is something I hadn’t even considered, but when we don’t get enough sleep we are at a higher risk for injury.

When we can’t focus properly, or we fall asleep at inopportune times, we have the risk of causing tragic accidents, like a car crash, or a fall. Lack of sleep has also been the cause of many larger accidents like plane crashes and nuclear reactor meltdowns.

So then what are some benefits of quality sleep?

If we get enough good-quality sleep at night it can:

  • Decrease our risk of health problems
  • Support healthy development and growth
  • Help our bodies fight germs and illness
  • Heal and repair our heart and blood vessels
  • Help support a good balance of our hormones
  • Improve our mental health

How do I know if I’m not getting enough sleep?

If you don’t track your sleep throughout the night, it can be difficult to know if you are getting enough.

How you feel during the day can help you decide if you are having symptoms of sleep deprivation.

Do you fall asleep or feel like you could fall asleep when you:

  1. Are sitting in traffic for a moment
  2. Are talking to someone else
  3. Are sitting in a public place like a library, movie theater, office or classroom
  4. Are watching videos or television
  5. Are reading
  6. Are sitting quietly after eating

These could all be signs that you need more sleep at night to reach your optimal productivity and amount of sleep.

You could also be sleep deficient if you have problems focusing, or learning, or are slow to react. Or if you struggle to problem solve, make decisions, or remember things.

Am I at risk for sleep deficiency?

Do you have:

-Undiagnosed or untreated medical problems

-A lifestyle that stops you from getting enough sleep

Limited time for proper sleep (like people working several jobs, or a young child who doesn’t sleep through the night)

-Have a changing schedule that disrupts your sleep schedule or internal clock (such as healthcare workers or people who work shift work)

-Have a high amount of stress or anxiety

If you do, you have an increased risk for sleep deficiency.

Luckily, there are things you can do to help.

So how do I ensure I am getting enough sleep at night?

1) Control your sleep environment

This could include things like tidying up your bedroom and the space around your bed, and keeping your bedroom cool, dark and quiet.

2) Develop a great evening self-care routine

Developing and maintaining a good self-care routine before bed can make all the difference in the world in your length and quality of sleep.

A great self-care night routine can include things that have a proven positive effect on sleep such as: taking a hot bath or shower, nighttime journaling, reading a book, sleep affirmations, soothing sound machines and even yoga or stretching.

3) Try to stick to the same routine on weekends and weekdays

If you go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, your body will fall into a natural rhythm and routine which will make it much easier to fall asleep and wake up naturally.

4) Avoid electronics at least an hour before bed

Artificial light from televisions, or phones, or computer screens can signal to our body and our circadian rhythm and that it is still daytime and still time to be awake.

5) Stay away from steep stealers near bedtime

Did you know that the effects from stimulants can actually last up to eight hours? So if you are someone that likes to drink a can of caffeinated soda with supper, you could actually be making it much harder for you to fall asleep when you to to bed.

Things like nicotine, caffeine, sugar, alcohol, and spicy foods can keep you tossing and turning at night.

These suggestions can all help to improve our quality of sleep, but you could be suffering from a serious sleep disorder as well. If making some lifestyle changes and improving your bedtime habits still does not improve your quality and/or quantity of sleep, it is probably time to visit a doctor for professional help.

The negative effects that a lack of sleep has on our wellness and health is well documented. Improving our quality, and amount of sleep can be a crucial piece in helping to improve our wellness and our happiness overall.

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