How does sleep affect us?
- Published on :10/03/2019
A few weeks ago I had an opportunity to be on stage and do a public talk at MO museum in Vilnius about the physiological effects that sleep (or the lack of sleep) has on us. I also shared some advice regarding lifestyle which can help us improve sleep quality and therefore our mood, our behaviour, how we look and so on. Here is a brief summary of my presentation.
Lack of sleep sends stress signals to our body
When we are short of sleep, the body sees it as stress. The lack of sleep acts on our body very similar to stress. Stress that is not addressed may turn into chronic stress and cause long lasting negative effects on all systems of our body. Under stress people may not be able to think clearly, they might experience mood swings, food cravings, etc.
Why do we become snappy when we lack sleep?
When I say “lack sleep” I mean even 1 or 2 hours less sleep per night. When we’re short of sleep, we get tired and this often makes us feel snappy. Think of mosquito who is looking to bite someone. When we lack sleep, our emotional brain – amygdala – gets overstimulated and becomes much more sensitive. That may cause inadequate reactions to people, environment and so on.
Why is difficult to focus when we are deprived of sleep?
When we lack sleep, we feel tired. Prefrontal cortex, the key part of our rational brain “gets in conflict” with the amygdala, the emotional brain which is taking over. This makes it very difficult for us to focus, make decisions.
Our ability to remember and learn new information decreases when we’re missing sleep.
Why does this happen? As we live through the day, obtain information and learn new facts, it all gets stored in the hippocampus (short-term) memory storage which gets cleared when we sleep. Then the information that we gathered throughout the day is moved into the cortex part of the brain (long-term memory storage). Having memories and information stored in the cortex makes it long-term. Sleep helps to do both – to clean up our short-term memory space so we can learn new information and also to remember information that we learned. When we’re deprived of sleep, our ability to learn and remember decreases.
Why do we crave for junk food when we are tired?
Sleep loss may lead to obesity If we look at historical data, we can see that as we sleep less and less, obesity in the world is growing. Of course, sleep loss is not the only factor that leads to obesity, but this may affect it. Tired, sleep deprived individuals usually move and exercise less and at the same time consume more calories to fuel their tired body which over time may lead to weight gain or even obesity.
Our hunger and satiety gets out of balance when we lack sleep
Two key hormones in our body control the feelings of hunger and fullness. If we are healthy and our body is in balance we feel hungry when we don’t eat for a certain time, and our satiety hormone kicks in after we eat. When we lack sleep, our body secretes more of the hunger hormone ghrelin, which makes us feel more hungry. At the same time the lack of sleep or sleep deprivation suppresses our body’s ability to produce leptin, the satiety hormone. This may leave us never satisfied and full, even if we eat a full meal.
Is so-called sleep hormone kicking-in?
We naturally start feeling tired in the evening as the sun starts setting. This is primarily happening because our body starts secreting melatonin, which is so-called sleep hormone. It takes us into sleep and starts falling down in the morning as we need to wake up and start being active.
For many years, this hormone was known as sleep hormone, but scientists are now discovering its other benefits. Melatonin switches off oxidation processes in our body. Think of it as an antioxidant. It also reduces inflammatory processes in our body.
What may cause the imbalance of melatonin?
Melatonin secretion is influenced by light. As we progress towards the night, the production of melatonin increases. In the modern world we are constantly exposed to city light, bright lights at home which suppresses melatonin production. Our devices like phones and tablets emit blue light which has a very negative impact on melatonin production. Using devices until late may influence how fast we fall asleep and how disturbed our sleep is.
When we sleep body cleans itself?
When we sleep it’s time when body does most of the repair work and cleans itself from damaged cells and other metabolites.
Brains gets detoxified at night through glymphatic system.
You can read more about glymphatic system and how it helps to detoxify brain in our previous blog post about Sleep and the brain and body connection.
These are only a few physiological effects that sleep or the lack of sleep has on us. In the upcoming blog series I will do a deeper dive into the topic. For now here is a short list of recommendations to help you sleep better:
- Avoid using technology 60-90 minutes before bed. You may try to set alarm 60-90 minutes before bed, to remind you to switch off your devices. I use this one myself and it works very well. A great reminder to take care of myself.
- Stop drinking caffeinated drinks at midday. That includes coffee, black and green tea, energy drinks, Coke and others.
- Stop eating minimum 2-3 hours before bed. That includes high-calorie drinks like juices, wine, sugary teas and so on.
- Eat blood sugar balancing meals. Low in GL (glycemic load).
- If you exercise in the evening, take a hot bath or a long hot shower to warm up your body. It helps to fall asleep.
- Remember this chart below. The closer your lifestyle is to a natural sun cycle, the more balanced your sleep can be. Stay outdoors in sunlight in the morning and keep your environment darker in the evening.
IMPORTANT: if you are are suffering from sleep disorders or experience any serious health related symptoms you should consult with a medical practitioner.
About the author:
Ruta Kisieliute is marketing manager at Bedroommood and also a qualified Nutrition and Lifestyle coach. She is graduating from Institute of Health and Sciences in the UK and Ireland this year after she finishes her practical work in October. Follow her on instagram @ruta_k. She shares food and recipes that love you back.
Dr. Rangan Chaterjee 'The stress solution'
Dr. Rangan Chaterjee 'The 4 pillar plan'
Mathew Walker 'Why we sleep'
These books were used to collect some of the information in the article. We also highly recommend them if you wish to learn more about sleep and overal well-being. Be healthy. Sleep well.