Did you know that you would die from sleep deprivation before you starved to death? It takes 2 weeks to die from starvation while 10 days without sleep would likely kill you.
Sleep deprivation is increasingly becoming a public health epidemic as more and more people are suffering from not enough rest. Insufficient sleep contributes to depression, weight gain, cognitive impairment, cardiovascular problems, metabolic issues like diabetes, premature aging, cancers, low grade inflammation, and mood swings.
You absolutely cannot be healthy if you are not getting adequate sleep!
More than 1/3 of Americans have trouble sleeping every night, 51% of adults say they have problems sleeping at least a few nights each week and 43% of respondents report that daytime sleepiness interferes with their normal daytime activities. The number of adults aged 20 to 44 using sleeping pills doubled from 2000 to 2004. And seeing that 1/3 of American adults now get less than 6 hours of sleep a night, my guess is that the problem is only going to get worse. (source)
Is Cortisol the Problem?
Cortisol is the primary stress hormone that is secreted by the 2 small glands that are located on top of our kidneys in response to stress. The purpose of this hormone is assist us in “fight or flight” situations to give our bodies enough energy to survive dangerous situations.
A spike in cortisol triggers the release of amino acids from the muscles, glucose from the liver, and fatty acids into the blood stream so the body can access a tremendous amount of energy. It is secreted naturally in the body throughout the day, peaking at around 8 am to help us to get going in the morning and dropping off at night between 8 and 10 pm to help us get to sleep.
Unfortunately, our modern lives are full of stressful situations like work related stress, relationship worries, dehydration, poor diets, over-exercising, and lack of adequate sleep that this natural rhythm is disrupted and we are walking around with high levels of cortisol all day (and night) long.
High cortisol levels have been linked to sleep disturbances, adrenal fatigue, hormonal imbalances, elevated cholesterol, elevated blood sugar level, heart disease, decreased sex hormones, early aging, mood swings, depression, weight gain, impaired immune system, and weight gain.
Having Trouble with Sleep?
Chances are if you are reading this article, you are having some form of sleep disturbance. You are not alone. Getting adequate sleep has been one of my biggest personal struggles in my journey to health. Here’s a list of 8 easy steps that I have implemented in my life to improve the quality of sleep:
- Avoid stimulants – stimulants like caffeine and energy drinks shift your body into “fight of flight” mode. One 12 oz cup of coffee (200 mg of caffeine) increases blood cortisol levels by 30% in one hour. Cortisol can remain elevated for up to 18 hours in the blood. If you MUST have your caffeine, make sure that you have it only in the early part of the day (before noon.)
- Keep your blood sugar stable – avoid sugar and simple carbohydrates in your diet. Excessive carbohydrate intake creates cortisol release in response to constantly elevated insulin levels. Eat balanced meals with good quality fats, healthy carbs, and high quality, properly-sourced meats, fish, and eggs. Avoid skipping meals, as this will create a cortisol release as well. If you go more than five hours without eating, your cortisol levels increase.
- Go to bed early – try to be in bed by 1030 at the latest to be in rhythm with your body’s natural hormonal cycles. Getting up and going to bed at the same time every morning keeps our circadian rhythm in balance making sure that when the sun comes up your body releases cortisol to give you energy so you can be active during the day, and when the sun goes down, you produce and release melatonin, a hormone which makes you sleepy.
- Exercise regularly but don’t overdo it – regular exercise increases brain output of serotonin and dopamine, brain chemicals that reduce anxiety and depression. However, keep workouts under an hour because at the 1 hour mark, your testosterone levels begin to decline and cortisol levels rise.
- Essential Oils – Adding essential oils to my daily self-care routine has been a HUGE game-changer in my quality of sleep. Essential oils work by promoting overall health and vitality. They are immune-enhancing and mood-elevating. They support the body’s natural defenses. They help manage stress and help you relax. Many people use Lavender, Peace and Calming, RutaVaLa, and Valerian for their rest-enhancing properties. I personally use 2 drops of Valor every night before bed to support a good night’s rest. It has worked wonders for my wandering mind. (where to get high quality essential oils)
- Reduce media before bed – The constant stimulation we get throughout the day and in the evening from our cellphones, iPads, computers, and televisions is affecting our sleep. Did you know that the blue light typically emitted by these devices suppresses the production of melatonin (a hormone necessary for good sleep)? Read more about that HERE. I highly recommend avoiding media at least 2 hours before bed. And if you must, please use use blue-blocking amber-lensed goggles once the sun has gone down. These goggles have been shown to improve sleep quality as well as mood, simply by blocking blue light and simulating physiologic darkness. THESE are the ones that I use.
- Practice stress relieving techniques – We all are aware of our most stressful times of the day. Find tools to ground yourself and unwind. Deep breathing, restorative yoga, meditation, art, reading, etc can all bring your body back down to a relaxed state. Find what works for you.
- RELAX and enjoy life – take time out your busy life to just enjoy being alive. Set time aside to just do nothing. Take a walk in nature. Try restorative yoga instead of your high intensity workout. Take a nap.
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How would you rate your quality of sleep? How much sleep do you get a night? And what time do you usually go to bed? Any tips you would like to share?
Photo credit: @depositphotos : Ariwasabi and ryanking999