Sleep deprivation is the invisible ceiling to how good life can be
Imagine this: Someone walks up to you and pitches you on a brand-new, magical pill.
This pill can measurably improve your memory, overall cognitive performance, ability to learn new information, receptivity to facial cues, mood, ability to handle problems, metabolism, risk for heart disease and immune system.
Would you buy it?
Yeah, yeah, you saw this coming: That pill exists, but not in pill form. You can have all of those benefits cost-free, and all it takes is going to bed a little bit earlier. That’s it.
Yeah, yeah, you saw this coming: That pill exists, but not in pill form. You can have all of those benefits cost-free, and all it takes is going to bed a little bit earlier. That’s it.
And yet! The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have called sleep deprivation a public health crisis, saying that one-third of adults don’t get enough sleep. Some 80 percent of people report sleep problems at least once per week, and according to a 2016 study, sleep deprivation “causes more than $400 billion in economic losses annually in the United States and results in 1.23 million lost days of work each year.”
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Menopause and Sleep Changes
When women get to a certain age, they start going through menopause. During this time of your life, you go through various hormonal and physical changes, including mood swings, night sweats, a change in your weight and metabolism, and an end to your period. Among these other changes in your body, you might also start experience a disruption in your normal sleep pattern.
What is Menopause?
During menopause, your reproductive hormones slow down, which is when you typically stop menstruating and no longer have a menstrual cycle each month. This often happens gradually, with perimenopause first. This is often referred to as a transition phase, in which your progesterone and estrogen starts declining gradually, starting in your 40s (for most women). Full menopause is usually reached by the type you are 50, though of course this can vary a lot.
With the changes in your hormone levels, your body and mental health goes through a lot of changes as well, including lack of sleep, increased anxiety and depression, mood swings, hot flashes, and many other physical symptoms.
How Does it Affect Your Sleep?
The first thing you should know is that just because you are a woman around these ages with sleeping issues, doesn’t necessarily mean it is from menopause. That is simple one of the factors. However, if you are struggling with sleep deprivation around the time you started menopause, they are probably linked.
Your body is going through a major change during this time in your life. You just went through 40 or more years of having monthly menstrual cycles and a certain hormone level, so to suddenly have those drop, your body is going to need time to adjust.
The good news is that the insomnia won’t last forever, and there are quite a few things you can do to get better sleep.
What Can be Done About it?
When you go through menopause and have trouble sleeping, there are a few things you can do. Many of these are simple lifestyle changes that might also help with some of your other symptoms as well.
Improve your sleep habits – Start by focusing on sleep hygiene, which includes different habits that can help you get better sleep. Have a quality mattress and bedding, make sure your bedroom is calm and peaceful, and start winding down before bedtime so you are fully relaxed and ready for sleep.
Get regular exercise – Getting regular exercise is really important no matter your age, but especially during menopause. It can help with your cardiovascular health, reduce feelings of anxiety and depression, and help you sleep better at night.
Eat a healthy diet – Make sure you eat a well-balanced diet with essential vitamins and minerals. You want to have plenty of nutrients through a healthy diet, without too many food restrictions. Don’t focus on weight loss during this time, but instead on having the healthiest possible meals and snacks.
Reduce your stress levels – You might be feeling an increase in your stress levels ever since you started menopause. You can relieve your stress through exercise, meditation and mindfulness, and a simple change in your daily lifestyle habits.
If your sleep issues persist, it is a good idea to talk to your doctor. You might have sleep disorders like insomnia or sleep apnea that is the cause for your sleep issues, whether during menopause or not.
Sleep Changes When You Are Pregnant
When you find out you are pregnant, you mentally prepare yourself for how much your life is going to change. Not just in your home and your schedule, but your body as well. Another thing you should be aware of is that your sleep habits will change dramatically during pregnancy, with different sleep patterns during each trimester.
First Trimester Sleep Changes
You will notice that your sleep will change during each trimester of pregnancy, and often depending on outside factors like stress, your emotional state, diet, and chronic pain.
During the first trimester, it can include a lot of waking up in the middle of the night to use the restroom. After the first few weeks of pregnancy, you urinate more frequently, often linked to needing to hydrate more than usual.
This can continue throughout your entire pregnancy, though there might be certain stages where it isn’t quite as noticeable.
During the first trimester, you might be even more tired during the day and at night, so you could sleep more than usual. Even so, you may have difficulty sleeping when you start experiencing difficult physical changes, especially if you start getting “morning” sickness, which can happen at any time.
Second Trimester Sleep Changes
Many women describe the second trimester as the best trimester. This is when the frequent urination isn’t quite as frequent, you are tired but not overly tired, and your morning sickness might dissipate as well. Take advantage of how much better you feel, and especially of how much better you sleep!
You might notice that your overall quality of sleep is improved. You feel more rested at night, don’t have as much discomfort from nausea or cramping, and your emotional stress is often less severe during this trimester as well.
If you are experiencing insomnia, it is a good time to speak to your doctor, just to rule out any other causes for it.
Third Trimester Sleep Changes
The third trimester is a beautiful time as you feel more movement from your baby and get closer to labor and delivery, but your sleep might suffer once again. A lot of the sleep issues during this trimester are from body aches and pains.
You are growing a human, and that means a lot of pressure is put on your back and hips. You might notice that you have to wake up a lot at night to move positions, have chronic back pain, and maybe even some cramping. You might also notice other physical discomforts that keep you from getting quality sleep, like heartburn, shortness of breath, leg cramps, increased urination, and sinus congestion.
The best thing you can do is try to be as comfortable as possible at night, whether that means upgrading your mattress, getting different bedding, or using a body pillow to help support your body and decrease the cramps and back pain.
Soon you will have a brand new baby to love, so try to take advantage of as much sleep as possible during your pregnancy.
How to Help Children Get Better Sleep
It is hard enough getting your own quality sleep, but when your kids aren’t sleeping, neither are you in most cases. Here are some easy tips for helping your kids get the best sleep possible.
Set Your Child’s Bedtime
The very first thing you should do if your children are struggling with sleep is to choose a bedtime. There might be some nights where they don’t quite get to be don time, but the more consistent you are with when they need to be in bed, the better off everyone will be.
Choosing a bedtime isn’t just good for ensuring they get enough sleep before having to wake up the next morning, but for the purpose of good sleep habits. By knowing their bedtime, they also understand when it is time to start their nightly routine of getting ready for bed. It is really important for your children’s development.
Be Consistent with Bedtime Routines
Once you have chosen their bedtime, you can start working on their bedtime routine. This is a routine that should be done every night, which helps get them ready for bed. It might include taking a bath or shower and brushing their teeth, reading a book in bed, drinking a glass of milk to get them sleepy, and maybe taking medications if they have anything they need to take in the evening.
It is also when your kids usually stop watching TV or playing games, and do more relaxing activities. Maybe you start the routine an hour before their bedtime, so they can change into their pajamas and sit on the bed to relax and talk a bit before bed, or you read them a story. These activities get both their brain and body used to the idea of bedtime coming soon.
These sleep habits are a lot more important that you might think, and it is equally important that the routines are consistent.
Create a Relaxing Sleep Environment
Make sure your kids have a bedroom that is calm and soothing. You want them to have a relaxing sleep environment, even beginning with the color scheme of their room. It should have calming and soothing colors, usually on the lighter side, like light blue, green, yellow, purple, and pink. It is okay to have a good amount of color if that’s what they want, but try to avoid anything too bright, as it will make it hard for them to adjust to being relaxed at night.
They should have quality mattresses and bedding, along with proper temperature control. It is difficult to get good sleep in a room that is too hot or too cold, or if it gets bright. A pair of blackout curtains is great to have in their room.
Keep Their Stress Levels Low
If there is an evening when your child is a little stressed, such as a big school project coming up or they had issues with a kid at school, try to relieve their stress before sending them to bed. It is just as hard for a kid with stress to get good sleep as it is an adult. They need to be fully relaxed and eased of any stress or tension before getting good quality sleep, so this might mean talking to them or getting their mind off what they are worried about with a book or cartoon before bed.
Don’t Push Pressure on Sleep
While you want your children to get good sleep, don’t put too much pressure on them. This can actually create more stress and make it even harder for them to sleep. Don’t tell them they NEED to be asleep in a matter of minutes or how early they have to wake up. Just continue their nightly routine and be consistent with their bedtime.
How much sleep do your kids need? This will depend on the child and their age, but most children need about 9-10 hours of sleep on average. As they get older, this will decrease, but it is a good place to start.
Do You Have a Problem with Oversleeping?
Oversleeping can seem like a great thing when your schedule allows for it, but this is actually a lot worse for your health and wellness than you might think. Both inadequate sleep and too much sleep are not good for you. The best thing to do for your health is get a normal amount of sleep, without going too far under or over.
Here are some of the more common signs that you are oversleeping.
You Always Wake Up Tired
It is normal to be a little tired in the morning, especially when you were woken up by an alarm or you went to sleep a little later than normal. However, there is a difference between being sleepy because you just woke up, and being exhausted and severely fatigued. People who are oversleeping have similar effects to waking up after not sleeping much at all. It might feel similar to having jet lag or a bad hangover. When this keeps happening, it is usually a sign that you might be sleeping too much.
You Have Brain Fog
You might also be oversleeping if you are experiencing brain fog. Of course, brain fog can occur from many different situations and conditions, but oversleeping is definitely one of them. When you have brain fog, you feel out of it. Almost like you are walking around like a zombie without being able to really focus or concentrate on anything much. There are different levels of brain fog, but typically you just feel like your brain can’t quite focus on any one thing at a time.
You Wake Up with a Headache
If you find that you are waking up with headaches, that might be a sign that you have slept too much. Before assuming your headaches are from oversleeping, consider other potential causes, including sleep deprivation, stress, hormones, or clenching or grinding your teeth while sleeping.
Unusual Weight Gain
Any time you gain weight without changing your diet or habits, it is something you should look into. You might be gaining weight for any number of reasons, including medical conditions like thyroid disease, so it is not something you should ignore. However, your weight gain might actually be from oversleeping. People who sleep too much have a tendency to gain weight due to lack of energy throughout the day, a poor diet, and less time spent with physical activity during the day. Oversleeping can also be linked to changes in your appetite, so without realizing it, you might be eating more than usual.
Lastly, consider if you have more body pain than you used to. This might include arm and shoulder aching, your hips hurting, or your legs aching. These types of body pains come from laying for too long in one position, or just because you are not stretching out your muscles and joints enough. If the physical pain has come on after you started sleeping a little more than usual, it is often linked to oversleeping.
Sleeping too much might seem like a blessing if you have struggled with insomnia in the past, but it can be detrimental to your health just like lack of sleep can.
Sleeping Aids: Natural VS Over-the-Counter Remedies
If you are having trouble sleeping, and just switching up your habits isn’t enough to help, you might need to turn to sleeping aids. There are three main categories of sleeping aids – prescription, over-the-counter, and natural. We are going to discuss all three of them, but focus mainly on OTC and natural options for improving your sleep.
Prescription and OTC Sleep Aids
The first types of sleep aids are either available at your local drug store over-the-counter, or by prescription from your doctor. There are some pros and cons for every sleep aid, whether it is natural or not. It is good to understand what each medication can do for you in order to make a decision on which might help you the best.
Prescription Sleep Aids
First we have the sleep aids available by prescription. Benzodiazepines are a type of prescription medication that help to slow the activity in your brain. These are often given to people for anxiety and other mental health disorders, but they can also help rest your brain to help you sleep better. These include medications like lorazepam, diazepam, triazolam, and temazepam.
There are also non-benzo prescription sleep aids like eszopiclone and zolpidem, or names you might recognize more easily – Lunesta and Ambien. These are good when your insomnia is from a short-term situation, like an increase in your anxiety or following a traumatic event. They are not intended for long-term use.
Your doctor might also recommend antidepressants, which can help with the serotonin levels in your brain to encourage better rest at night. The most common antidepressants prescribed for insomnia are amitriptyline and trazodone.
Over-the-Counter Sleep Aids
The OTC meds are good because they don’t require a prescription, but you also need to be careful about tolerance and addiction.
Most OTC sleeping aids are a type of antihistamine or diphenhydramine. There are drowsy formulas of drugs often taken for allergies, sinus, and colds. These might include Benadryl, Advil PM, Unisom, and Sominex.
These are also not recommended on a long-term basis, since they can cause drowsiness throughout the next day after taking them.
Natural Sleep Aids
For something you can take more on a continued basis, look at the natural options. These are not as harsh on your body, and can often help with long-term sleep issues.
The first natural sleep aid to consider taking is melatonin. This is a hormone you already have in your body that will help you decide when it is time to sleep. Unfortunately, you might have a decline in this hormone, and need to take a melatonin supplement. It is really beneficial for people who need to sleep during the day or at different times each day from a shift work schedule.
You can also try adding a magnesium supplement to your daily routine. If you are not getting enough magnesium through natural food sources, you might notice a decline in the quality of your sleep. There are different types of magnesium, from supplement pills you can take, to powder you add to your water.
If you are a fan of herbs and essential oils, there are a few that can help you get better sleep. Some o the best ones are lavender, rose, and chamomile.
How Eating Disorders Affect Your Sleep
You are probably aware of the side effects of eating disorder and how they affect your body and mental health. But did you know it could also be affecting your sleep? There have been studies that show a correlation between certain types of eating disorders and unhealthy eating behaviors, and having issues sleeping.
Unhealthy Habits Beget Unhealthy Habits
The first way your lack of sleep could be affecting your eating disorder, and vice versa, is that one unhealthy habit often leads to another. People who suffer from eating disorders often find many different areas of their life and health is at jeopardy. Not just the immediate health concerns, but things like your mental health and problems sleeping. Your body might not get the nutrients it needs to find good rest at night, so you find yourself with insomnia.
It also can work the other way around. Where you are having issues sleeping, and suddenly you have a larger appetite, or unhealthy eating habits you used to suffer with suddenly come back. It is all related to how you feel and your emotional health, which sleep deprivation unfortunately can really have a negative effect on.
Sleep-Related Eating Disorder
There is also an eating disorder called sleep-related eating disorder, where you tend to have unusual eating patterns at night. This is often related to a type of sleepwalking, where when you get up at night, you tend to eat whatever you can find in the kitchen, and in the morning, you don’t remember doing so.
This isn’t just an issue with sleepwalking, but with your emotional health when you wake up and realize how much you have eaten. It is an unconscious form of overeating that can develop into other types of eating disorders and unhealthy eating patterns. This is why sleepwalking should be treated properly to avoid this type of behavior
Binge Eating from Lack of Sleep
You might also notice that on the days when you have a larger appetite or eating without even thinking about how much you are eating, you didn’t get good sleep the night before. One of the side effects of sleep deprivation is having appetite changes, usually where your body craves more food. You might notice binge eating behaviors when you have continued lack of sleep, particularly cravings for unhealthy food like sugar and refined carbohydrates.
It is important that you really focus getting on proper sleep for your mind and body. Your health and wellness rely on you to get proper rest in order for the other functions of your body and mind to work properly. When you don’t get enough sleep, it can lead to overeating, not eating enough, or developing otherwise unhealthy eating habits.
It can also lead to disordered eating if you have a history of mental illness, which is often linked to eating disorders or any unhealthy eating behavior.
Make sure you talk to a doctor about your sleep and eating disorder issues, as they might very well be linked.
Understanding the Different Stages of Sleep
Each night when you go to sleep, your body and mind goes through a lot of changes. This is why it seems like you are in a lighter or deeper sleep, or sometimes you dream and other types you don’t. Each of these changes will occur during a different stage of sleep. Here are the stages of sleep and what you can do to improve them.
Stage One – Light Stage Sleep
The first stage of sleep is naturally the lightest sleep, which is often what people experience when they take a brief nap in the daytime. Even at night, you go through stage one first, but it can last just a few minutes. During the light stage of sleep, your eye movements will start to slow down, and while you are slightly unconscious, you are also a little alert.
If you have ever drifted off while in bed or lying on the couch, but are instantly alerted to what’s going on a minute or two later, you were caught in the first stage of sleep. Some people have jerky body movements as well, especially when going between stage one and two of sleep.
Stage Two – Preparing for Deep Sleep
When you get through stage one, you start preparing for a deep sleep. This is stage two, when your eye movement has stopped and your brain waves start to slow down. Your body temperature will also likely drop in order to prepare for a deeper sleep.
Stage two is still a lighter sleep since you are not yet in a deep sleep yet. Your heart rate slows down, and there is an increase in brain wave activity. If you are trying to take a short nap, you wouldn’t want to get past stage two, or it would be hard to wake back up without an alarm.
Stage Three – Beginning of Deep Sleep
The start of a deep sleep occurs in the third stage of sleeping. Your brain produces waves called slower delta waves, which is when you might start having night terrors or other effects of sleep if you have a parasomnia. Do you struggle with sleepwalking or talking in your sleep? If so, it will probably occur in stage three or four, but rarely during REM sleep (the final stage).
When you reach stage three of sleep, it is harder to awake you. You won’t be as responsive to sounds and other distractions, only waking to a loud noise or other sudden alert. You might not even hear your alarm clock right away.
Stage Four – Continuing Deep Sleep
The final stage of sleep before you reach REM sleep is stage four, where you continue with your deep sleep. Your brain is still producing those delta waves, though it is more continuous and long-lasting than in stage three. If you are woken up while in stage four of sleep, you tend to be very sleepy and a bit disoriented.
REM Sleep – Rapid Eye Movement
Finally, you reach the fifth stage, which is REM sleep. This stands for rapid eye movement, which is the deepest form of sleep. It typically occurs between 1 and 2 hours after you have fallen asleep and gone through the other 4 stages of sleep.
When you have an REM sleep cycle (Which there are several each night), you might have dreams, and if someone were to look at your eyelids, they would see your eyes moving back and forth. Your heart rate increase and your breathing is sometimes faster.
REM sleep is important for everyone. It helps you process information from the previous day for long-term storage, and it helps your body to fully rest. If you never dream, you might not be getting REM sleep, and should get help with improving your sleep throughout the night.
Signs You Aren’t Getting Enough Sleep
Are you constantly in a poor mood and aren’t sure why? Do you feel exhausted throughout the day, even when you felt like you slept enough? DO you find it hard to concentrate? If so, you might be dealing with a lack of sleep. Even if you are in bed for what seems like 7-8 hours a night, that doesn’t mean you are sleeping that long or getting enough rest. Here are some signs that you are not getting enough sleep.
You Have Been in a Bad Mood
When you don’t get enough sleep, you are much more vulnerable to mood swings, irritability, and even anger. You might find that you are constantly in a bad mood, and don’t even know why. When this happens regularly, it is a good idea to try to figure out why this is happening, especially when you can’t figure out any other reason for it.
Try to take a look at your sleep recently, and figure out if the moodiness started shortly after you noticed the quality of your sleep went down. Remember that your mood and attitude doesn’t just affect you, but your family, friends, relationships, and other people you come in contact with.
You Have an Increased Appetite
Are you suddenly ravenous? Do you have a larger appetite than you remember having before? This can also be a big sign that you are not getting enough sleep. Your appetite changes quite a bit base don your emotional state, and whether or not you are getting adequate sleep at night.
When you don’t get enough sleep, the hormone in your gut called ghrelin, can increase. This makes you feel hungrier than normal, and often with more cravings of sugar, refined carbs, and otherwise unhealthy food options.
The hunger and increased cravings might dissipate if you start improving your quality of sleep.
You Have Lower Productivity
Another way lack of sleep affects you is with less concentration, focus, and productivity. Maybe you notice that you can’t focus for long stretches of time anymore, or your concentration is failing quite a bit. You might have less productivity at work, and are actually suffering as a result of it.
The first thing to do when you have these issues is to figure out if something has changed recently. Start with whether or not you are getting quality of sleep. If you aren’t sure how your sleep is, because it seems like you are sleeping just fine, consider these other signs of sleep deprivation as well.
Your Memory is Failing
You could also be experiencing lower memory function as a result of sleep deprivation. When you go to sleep, you go through multiple phases, with the fifth phase being REM sleep. The later phases, including stage 3 and 4, are when you enter deep sleep. All of these are important for brain function, but especially that crucial deep sleep. This is when your brain is able to hold onto memories from the day before, and use them for long-term memory storage. If you never get deep sleep, you might start noticing major holes in your long-term memory.
How to Improve Your Sleep with a Shift Work Schedule
Working the graveyard shift can have many advantages. While everyone else is working, you can be at home. You also can go to doctor’s appointments and take care of other things that you normally would have to take a day off work to do. If you have young children, you can be available to spend time with them during the day, attend school functions, or volunteer at their school. However, this free time during the day can come at a high price because of sleep problems associated with working at night.
Shift work sleep disorder (SWSD) is a real thing. Although it doesn’t happen to everyone, somewhere between 10% and 40% of shift workers develop symptoms associated with SWSD. Some of the common symptoms of SWSD are headaches, difficulty concentrating, lack of energy, and excessive sleepiness. Being aware of these symptoms and some of the things that you can do to help combat them will make your ability to work shift work easier.
People who do not manage SWSD well could be prone to have more work-related accidents, mood swings, poor coping skills, which could affect their relationships and social life. They can also develop health problems and be susceptible to drug and alcohol dependency.
Here are some tips to help you manage SWSD:
1. Make sleep a priority. It can be tempting to get all the items done on your to-do list but don’t overdo it. Recognize that your body needs at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep every day to function well.
2. If you can get off work and make it home while it is still dark, do so. Minimizing the exposure to sunlight will keep your body from activating its internal “daytime clock.”
3. Don’t work too many nights in a row. If you work at night, try not to work more than 5 nights with days off in between. If you can, take more than 48 hours off work after working you string of nights.
4. If possible, don’t commute for long distances. The sooner you can go to sleep after working the better. If you work at a job that provides a place to rest, consider taking advantage of it.
5. Make sure you get enough sleep on the days when you are off work. Maintaining a routine and practicing good sleep habits while you are off will help keep you from going back to work sleep deprived.
6. Try to avoid alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine before going to bed.
7. If you're still having difficulty sleeping after trying the tips mentioned, you should go see your doctor. Your doctor can prescribe sleep aids to help you relax.
Depending on the type of employment you have, working shift work may not be an option for you. However, working the shift work can have many advantages if you can get the proper amount of sleep. If you follow the tips provided, working shift work can be a positive experience.