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World Sleep Day

World Sleep Day is March 17, and I would like to highlight this day because inadequate and poor-quality sleep is truly an epidemic in our modern age.

With so many to dos, our modern go-go attitude, and poor sleep hygiene, more than 20% of North American adults report insomnia, and a staggering 62% of adults report being chronically under rested.

Poor sleep is a factor in many aspects of poor health, and can have significant and long-term impacts on the body and our longevity.

Let’s take a look at how poor sleep affects us, the main culprits for poor sleep, as well as some hacks to make the most of your zzz’s.

How Poor Sleep Affects Health & Wellbeing

Sure, you may be able to function on 5 hours, but how is chronic lack of sleep really affecting your health and wellbeing?

Adults need, on average, 7-9 hours of quality sleep a night to support optimal health.

Long term effects of chronically under sleeping can be a very big deal.

1. Increased Obesity & Diabetes- Studies have shown that people who get the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep have a lower risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes than those who do not meet the minimum sleep requirements of the body. Our sleep impacts blood sugar regulation through the production of hormones that occurs during sleep.

2. Lower Sex Drive- Poor sleep could be affecting your other favorite bedtime activities, with sleep loss being associated with erectile dysfunction, low libido, and even infertility. A big factor in this is sleeps important role in sexual hormone production.

3. Accelerated Aging- Not getting enough zzz’s puts a strain on the entire body, and stress itself is one of the things that ages us most rapidly. The secret to glowing, healthy skin truly is beauty sleep.

4. Impacts Memory & Concentration- The irony of skipping out on sleep in order to devote more time to school or work is that it actually impacts your brain’s capacity in the long run. Studies have shown reduced memory, concentration and cognitive function in those who chronically under sleep, and it comes with an increased threshold for mistakes, and even significant accidents.

5. Increases Depression & Anxiety- Our brains need sleep. Studies have shown the link between mental illness and sleep deprivation. Too little sleep effects not only our brain chemistry, but our capacity to regulate our hormones, our emotional stability, and our tendency to take care of other pillars for good physical and mental health such as good nutrition, hydration, and movement.

Why Aren’t You Sleeping Well?

Besides some unavoidable factors such as a new baby, shift work, or caring for someone who needs support during the night, some of the top reasons for poor sleep include:

1. Not Prioritizing Sleep- Simply not placing good sleep in a high priority is a big factor for a lot of chronic under sleepers. Burning the candle and both ends, or sacrificing sleep in favor of other activities does bear consequence over time.

2. Screentime and Blue/White Light- Being exposed to the blue light of cell phones, tv screens, or computers close to bedtime sends mixed signals to our brain. In the natural world, blue and white light spectrums signal our brain that it is daylight and time to be alert and active. When we spend our evenings glued to the screen and then try to fall asleep soon afterwards, it can take our brains time to catch up.

3. Caffeine and Alcohol- In addition to being a stimulant, caffeine blocks sleep promoting receptors in our brain, which is what helps it keep us alert. However, consuming it too close to bedtime can have the undesirable effect of keeping us awake or in poor quality sleep. Alcohol can trick us, in many people feeling like it helps them fall asleep, however, its negative effects on sleep quality negate the drowsy initial effects.

4. Stress- High stress levels keep the body in a heightened and alert state due to increased cortisol levels. This serves us in the realm of physical threats (Think, sleeping in the woods and needing to potentially flee a predator) but in our modern world of email and meeting induced fight or flight, it can really be overkill. Stress affects not only the body’s ability to fall into sleep, but to stay in deep sleep.

5. Poor Sleep Environment- Room temperature, improper beds, noise and light pollution all impact the quality of sleep that we have. It may seem like no big deal, but the cumulative effects of a poor sleep environment can impact our body’s ability to enter into and reap the rewards of deep and restful sleep.

6. Digestion Issues- Reflux, gas, bloating, and the inflammatory effects of poor digestion can impact the quality of your sleep, and plays a role for many in our poorly nourished society.

Dr. Marita’s Top Sleep Hacks

1. Create a Solid Sleep Routine- Set a regular bedtime, and stick with it, even on weekends. Remind yourself that everything else in life is built on this solid foundation.

2. Practice Good Sleep Hygiene- Turn the screen off at least an hour before bed. Spend time just relaxing and unwinding without the blue light before bedtime. An evening meditation can also be supportive in putting down the stress from the day. Avoid alcohol, and stop caffeine after noon. Eat dinner at least 2 hours before bed, and have a light bedtime snack to help support overnight blood sugar levels.

3. Invest in a Healthy Sleep Environment- Blackout shades, white noise, comfortable pillows and bed, weighted blankets, humidifiers. All of these things can be a great investment in getting quality sleep, which can pay off in the long run.

4. Take Care of Your Gut- Minimizing inflammatory foods such as sugar, processed foods, dairy, gluten, caffeine and alcohol is highly beneficial and at the same time increasing your intake of anti-inflammatory spices such as turmeric, oregano, cinnamon, rosemary and ginger can help with any poor digestion affecting sleep. Incorporating a good probiotic, as well as identifying and avoiding any food sensitivities will also help reduce nighttime digestive issues.

5. Take Your Magnesium- Many Canadians are magnesium deficient and this mineral is a key for the nervous system, and the body’s capacity to calm itself and stay in restful sleep. Adding a daily magnesium supplement, specifically magnesium bisglycinate which has fewer digestive impacts, can help improve sleep quality.

Sweet dreams!

Dr. Marita Schauch, BSc. ND