Sleep and Insomnia

Catching your ZZZ’s is more important than you may think! Restful sleep has been shown to improve mood and memory, maintain a healthy body weight and blood pressure and reduce risk for certain diseases like cancer. With so many reasons to get quality sleep, why are we a society full of sleep deprivation? Over scheduling, over caffeinating and overworking ourselves are just a few reasons we are loosing sleep. This lack of sleep does not come without a price, we are a species that need sleep to survive, making sleep essential. The following are 4 reasons to make start making sleep a priority.

Improve Academic Performance

Students who continually have 2 or more hours of sleep deprivation per night have been shown to have lower academic performance when compared to those who consistently get 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Also seen is the correlation in sleep deprived students and an increase consumption of stimulants including caffeine. Use of stimulants can further lead to sleep deprivation and so on.

The Journal of Psychiatric Research found that of 144 medical students preparing for board examinations, those students who maintained quality sleep verses quantity of sleep achieved better scores. Although the majority of students reported feeling tired and overall sleep deprived, it was the students that reported feeling so stressed that they could not get a quality night’s sleep, despite lying in bed for 8 hours, who performed poorly. This lends that stress can also play a role in our ability to sleep well.

Pain Reduction

Continually sleep-deprived individuals suffering from chronic pain syndromes including fibromyalgia, arthritis and depression, have been shown to be less responsive to certain pharmaceutical interventions when compared to individuals with normal sleep patterns. When it comes to pain reduction it is not clear if overall length of sleep or if quality of sleep is key to improving outcomes and responsiveness to pain management treatment interventions. What is clear is the correlation of sleep and the ability for the body to handle stress, including stress from a chronic illness.

Chronic back and muscle pain has been argued to be one of the most common reasons for disrupted and inadequate sleep. Insomnia leads to less restorative sleep time, time needed for the body to restore and repair. Less sleep, more chronic pain, more chronic pain leading to less sleep; and the cycle continues. All the more reason to have your chronic pain addressed by a health care practitioner as there are a myriad of treatment options available for all types of chronic disease.

Metabolism Maintenance

Who knew sleep could play such an important role in the maintenance of healthy body weight! Of course diet and exercise are also important pieces to keeping fit, however, studies on shift workers who continually work night hours have been shown to have altered hunger responses due to circadian rhythm disruption. Circadian rhythm is the 24 hour cycle that regulates sleep, wake and feeding cycles in addition to hormone releasing. This circadian rhythm cycle is based on environmental cues including daylight.

Specifically, the hormones ghrelin and leptin are released at set times during day light and nighttime hours. Ghrelin is the hormone responsible for promoting hunger and initiating food intake. Leptin is responsible for the suppression of food intake and energy balance. Normally, circulating leptin concentrations are the highest at night and the lowest in the daytime while ghrelin circulation is the highest in the day and lowest at night. It has been shown that with chronic disruptions in circadian rhythm cycles leptin and grelin secretions can fluctuate throughout the night and day, thereby altering the feelings of hunger and satiation, leading to altered eating patterns and over eating.

Hormone Balancing

Our bodies hormones are not continually released throughout the day, they are also cyclical and are subject disruption when sleep wake cycles are not in rhythm. The hormone melatonin, whose release is reliant on cues of light and darkness, not only let the body know when to wind down for sleep or when to wake, but also acts as mediator in the timing of when other hormones are released. Normally, circulating levels of melatonin are highest at night and almost undetectable during the day. Melatonin release cycles can become disrupted in shift workers, jet lag and individuals who have poor eyesight, as the cue of light and dark are altered.

Melatonin levels are highest in children and decrease as we age. This natural drop in melatonin secretion in older individuals could be to blame increased sleep problems as we age. Some speculate that due to melatonin’s antioxidant effects that it could play a part in anti-aging therapies. Before considering supplementing with melatonin for sleep imbalances, speak with your health care practitioner as there may be more that just melatonin to blame for your sleep problems.

How to Improve Sleep Quality

Start with the basics, good sleep hygiene. With so many things inhibiting consistent quality sleep it is important to adopt good sleep hygiene habits. Starting with the bedroom itself, keeping lighting dim and temperatures down will not only set the stage for sleep but also encourage melatonin release with darkness cues. Removing electronics and televisions from the bedroom, anything that can be a distraction from going to bed. Consider incorporating a nightly glass of warm tea or a warm bath as a ritual before bedtime, further setting the stage for sleep. Once in bed, consider meditation or praying as this can help to quiet the mind and allow you let go to the stressors of the day and fall asleep.

For consistent sleep disturbances or insomnia concerns, speak with your physician about further measures that can be done to support normal sleep cycles. Testing for hormone imbalances, addressing nutritional needs and stress management are all part of a sleep maintenance protocols that can be addressed to help maintain quality sleep for life.

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