The importance of sleep for good health cannot be overstated but it remains a subject that too many take for granted.
Always feeling tired and not sleeping is going to feel different for everyone. Generally, we put so much time and effort into all aspects of our busy lives we forget how important sleep is on our health and wellbeing. Until the tiredness starts affecting our daily routine. Then we have a real problem to address.
Most people tend to understand the value of nutrition, to remain healthy and do their utmost to compensate for poor nutrition.
Most people also understand the value of exercise, to stay fit and improve their bodily function. However, addressing a failure to secure enough sleep is not always treated with the same level of urgency.
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Why You Need Sleep?
Doctors will often tell you that it is during sleep that many critical things happen with the brain. Chief among those is the removal of toxins that have been built up through the burning of energy during the course of the day.
According to Charles A. Czeisler, MD, Ph.D., Chief, Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, those toxins get flushed from the brain when you sleep.
The doctor also explains that it is during this sleep that the average human being integrates the new information that has been learned during the day with the information that has already been stored.
That would predominantly happen during what doctors refer to as rapid eye movement sleep – that is commonly associated with vivid dreaming.
It then stands to reason that if you are overtired and can’t sleep an urgent remedy will be required.
What Are the Physiological Effects of Being Overtired and Not Sleeping?
We have already touched on the impact that lack of sleep has on the brain but what is always taken for granted by the layman – like the author of this blog post – is that a poorly functioning brain can have devastating consequences for the body too.
Among other things, the lack of decent sleep increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. Dr. Czeisler actually cites a 300 percent increase in the risk to the calcification of the coronary arteries. Some experts have that at 200 percent.
One of the more special things about the human body is its capacity to combat illness, through the functionality of the immune system. That very immune system can and probably will be adversely affected by the lack of sleep. Dice with that prospect at your own peril.
Have you noticed that when you are not asleep late at night – for whatever reason – your first instinct is to walk to the kitchen and open the fridge?
That is not because you are hungry. It probably because the functionality of your metabolic system has been adversely affected – to some degree.
In layman’s terms, the lack of sleep tends to make a person more hungry. You essentially become less satisfied with what you have eaten in the period before finally getting some sleep.
Dementia and Lack of Sleep Is There a Connection?
Professor Matthew Walker, from California Berkeley, expands on this matter of toxins that need to be flushed out by the brain. He explains that it is, in essence, the long term impact that can be most devastating.
Dementia is among the biggest fears confronted by young people. Sleeping less than you should now – for whatever reason – will catch up with you in alarming ways when you are old and wrinkly.
In his teachings, he makes particular reference to what he calls toxic proteins that develop in the brain. Those toxic proteins are supposed to be flushed out regularly. If you are not sleeping regularly, those toxins build-up to an unsustainable level.
Does Not Sleeping Have an Impact on Reproductive Capacity?
Simply put, the less you sleep – and young, ambitious men are often guilty of this – the lower the level of testosterone produced by the body. In essence, the lack of sleep tends to age you by about ten years. That has a direct impact on your virility and general wellness.
Are You Working the Night Shift?
There is now compelling evidence to suggest that the cancer threat worldwide has been heightened, primarily because of the amount of nighttime shift work that is being done. The World Health Organisation, source, continues to grapple with this issue itself.
At the heart of the debate, which is nothing more than that, is the contention that sleep rate rhythms are disturbed by night work. Naturally, there has been some push back on this subject, partly because it affects company policy significantly and adversely.
Is Exposure to Artificial Light Causing You to Become Overtired and Affecting Your Sleep?
The reality is and this is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid that humans are being exposed to more and more artificial light, especially those who live in the cities. Curtains are not always enough.
The light is bad enough under ordinary circumstances but what it does do is trick your brain into thinking dusk falls considerably later than it actually should. Through no fault of your own, your brain and body make that inaccurate adjustment and that leads to sleep deprivation.
That is when you find yourself staying up until as late as midnight, even when you know you are totally exhausted. It is a cruel game of deception. If not addressed as a matter of urgency, that condition can become chronic – and that is a slippery slope.
We have all had those moments when we find ourselves staring at the ceilings in the early hours of the morning, for no apparent reason.
Breaking the Habit of Being Overtired and Not Sleeping
The harsh reality is that there is no quick fix for chronic levels of insomnia. The long-term consequences of relying on medication to solve this problem can be anything from undesirable to severe.
Remedies that do not require medication are considerably easier to speak about than they are to implement. To some degree, this really can be somewhat of a Catch 22 scenario.
Some doctors will tell you that there are two key pillars to erect when trying to cure insomnia that has plagued you for a protracted period. This is if you want to have the problem solved the natural way.
Life coach Kamil K. Wawrzyszko has some interesting views on this.
He believes that things like medication, alcohol and other “remedies” do nothing more than assist you with sleeping. But he does not think any of those remedies address the core problems you face.
Convincing Your Brain That You Want To Sleep
The first is that of overcoming a mental obstacle. If you are an insomniac, somewhere in the deep recesses of your mind you will know – as well as anybody else – that at some stage in your life you did manage to fall asleep at night.
At some stage in your life, you did manage to put in the necessary sleep quota and you did wake up feeling fresh and alert in the morning.
In this game of psychological warfare, the key is remembering. You need to remind yourself – and this is a lot more difficult than it sounds – that there was once a time when you did manage to sleep, especially when you were overtired and couldn’t sleep.
The capacity to fall asleep is something that is innate, you are born with that capacity. However, at some point in your life, your body somehow forgot how to shut down accordingly.
Once you overcome this rather obvious psychological hurdle, you will be one step closer to remedying the sleep crisis. There is a certain level of anxiety that often comes with not being able to sleep and the goal should always be to topple that.
You need to always remember that the capacity to sleep is something that you were ultimately born with. There is no training regimen that you need to apply, there are no lessons that you need to take and there is no need to force yourself to sleep.
The capacity to sleep is an integral part of who you are.
The capacity to fall asleep is never lost, just forgotten. And it is only ever forgotten because a certain mechanism which you have carried – whether inadvertently or not – has limited that capacity to fall asleep.
If you must – and you probably will have to do this – you should keep repeating to yourself that you were “born to sleep”.
As mentioned earlier in this segment, medication can only assist you but it seldom resolves the problem. There is no magical cure or pill out there. The fix to the problem of being overtired and not being able to sleep lies within you. No doctor can realistically resolve that.
In several key spheres of the human make-up, self-regulation comes with the territory. Your heart just beats, your brains just functions and you just breathe. These are things you do not have to think about.
This really applies to almost every organ in your body. There is no special skill you require to make those organs function. They just do.
The same logic applies to sleep. It is an activity that was meant to just happen without any additional strain.
In addition to this, you need to rid yourself of any notion that your case of insomnia is any different to anybody else. This is not inherited through your family and you have not been cursed.
There is very little – we won’t say anything – about your sleep patterns that are particularly unique. Many human beings grapple with this at some point in their lives, to varying degrees.
Improving Your Sleep Routine
The second aspect that needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency is that of the sleep patterns you adopt. Most doctors will tell you that you need in the region of 7-9 hours of sleep every day.
Normally, waking up later or sleeping longer than you should is a sure sign that something is amiss and needs to be comprehensively addressed. When you have been sleeping for 7-9 hours and you are aware of it, then get out of bed.
The most susceptible to this kind of thing are those who are unemployed, those who work flexible hours at work and those who are self-employed. Under those circumstances, the temptation is always there to stay in bed longer than you need to.
DON’T DO IT!
Resist that urge to sleep longer than you need to, as this can often prove to be the start of worse things to come when you want to catch some sleep in the evening, more particularly when you are exhausted. It is probably also important to adhere to this routine, even if you did struggle to sleep at night.
Waking up later than your ordinarily would actually exacerbate problems you might encounter with insomnia.
What the Doctors Say – About Being Overtired and Not Sleeping
Dr. Eric Berg, an expert in this field explains what most of us already know – that the natural human instinct if to wake up when it is light and to sleep when it gets dark. He explains that there is a clock in your brain that gets triggered by light and dark.
Ordinarily, when your body prepares to shut down for you to sleep a hormone called Melatonin is triggered and kicks in. Now Melatonin is also available as a supplement and that can be used to treat failure to sleep, even when you are exhausted.
However, as we have already alluded to previously in this segment, the gains made with a hormone supplement are normally short-term. Something that would ordinarily be achieved after doing some late shift work or to adjust from jet lag.
Even then, the jury is out on whether the supplement is actually that beneficial, even in the short-term. Some who have consistently used will likely argue that it is useful.
He then goes on to explain that there is a chemical called noradrenaline, which functions as a hormone in the body that helps stimulate the waking up process. It is a neurotransmitter.
Some doctors explain that if you are deficient in vitamin B1, for example, you are likely to be very restless.
Dr. Berg explains that you are likely to encounter a considerable amount of tension and that you are unlikely to wind down easily and fall asleep at night – predominantly because there will be a low tolerance to stress.
People who are stressed spend a considerable amount of time thinking, calculating. To some degree, the brain actually works overtime. A vitamin B1 deficiency exacerbates that problem.
Biology teachers will tell you that when the adrenal gland is overactive, you deplete B1.
However, it does get more complicated than that. Alcohol, sugar, refined carbohydrates and having a gastric bypass surgery all contribute to the depletion of B1. The latter is particularly unnecessary.
While you might be solving your weight problem, you end up complicating that by limiting the body’s capacity to absorb B1. This is your classic case of creating a secondary problem after solving what wasn’t an initial problem to start with.
While you can ditch the booze and the soft drinks. Coming back from the impact of a weight loss surgery is a slightly more complicated affair.
The minerals that assist with sleeping include magnesium and potassium. An absence of either will make sleeping that much more difficult to achieve. Compensating for that will go a considerable way to eliminating your sleep problems – from a medical point of view.
A primary source for most of the crucial minerals that help facilitate sleeping is vegetables and some fruit.
Other ailments that are associated with the lack of sleep can include diabetic or pre-diabetic problems. Those generally serve as an additional complication and probably need to be explored at greater length.
In short, if you have issues with blood sugar levels, your sleep is likely to be impacted. What essentially happens is that when your blood sugar levels have dropped, your body stimulates adrenaline to try help raise those levels.
When that adrenaline kicks in, you will invariably wake up. There is no avoiding it really.
An awful habit, which we have all been guilty of at some point is that of grazing late in the evening, especially in front of a television set or computer. Before you know it – and sometimes you don’t actually know it – your stomach becomes bloated.
By the time you need to sleep, you will likely encounter some difficulties with digestion.
Sometimes, you might have actually fallen asleep for the greater part of five minutes only to be woken by a slightly upset stomach. That is often, probably always because your body is struggling to break down the food you have just been eating well into the night.
How Much Sleep Do We Need?
Our sleep requirements vary throughout our lives, and our age is a large part of determining how much sleep we need. The figures below are averages and supplied by the National Sleep Foundation.
- Newborns (0 to 3 months) – 14 to 17 hours
- Infants (4 to 12 months) – 12 to 15 hours
- Toddlers (1 to 2 years) – 11 to 14 hours
- Preschool (3 to 5 years) – 10 to 13 hours
- School-Age Children (6 to 12 years) – 9 to 11 hours
- Teenagers (13 to 17 years) – 8 to 10 hours
- Adults (18 to 54 years old) – 7 to 9 hours
- Older Adults (55 and older) – 7 to 8 hours
The one word which will get bandied about a considerable amount when subjects like this are debated is REGULARITY. Before making any other conclusions legitimate or otherwise try to the best of your ability to go to bed at the same time every day and wake up at the same time every day.
It will also be prudent to maintain similar patterns weekend-on-weekend. In your last hour before bed, each night, try and switch off as many lights in the house as possible. It also wouldn’t hurt to stay away from screens, whether that be computer screens or television sets.
There is also some evidence to suggest that cooling the body before you sleep can also be a useful exercise, in your bid to pass out on time.
As always here’s to better sleep!