The Unexpected Way You Might Be Sabotaging Your Health

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According to a study by the CDC, 30% of Americans get less than the recommended 7 hours of sleep on a regular basis. That means when you’re grabbing brunch with two of your closest girls on a Sunday morning, 1 out of the 3 of you is not getting enough zzz’s at night.

And that’s not okay.

In a world where success is measured by how much you can manage to cram into a single 24 hour period, sleep is more often viewed as a luxury rather than a necessity. We pack our days with more and more, sleep less and less, and then reason that we can get through our days just fine with three Venti Iced Cappuccinos.

Real talk: We’re humans, not superheroes.

We need sleep, whether or not we think we do. At Dallas Iron Fitness, we’re all about encouraging you to live your healthiest life, and no amount of healthy eating or exercise will get you there if you are skimping on one of the body’s most important functions: sleep.

In this post, we’re talking about the unexpected way you might be sabotaging your health: not getting enough sleep. We’re going to dig into how a lack of sleep can affect:

  • Your health

  • Your ability to successfully nail your work every day

  • How a lack of it can put your lives and others at risk

We’ll also share with you some tips so that you can begin developing healthy sleep habits.

STAGES OF SLEEP.

Let’s have a throwback to our high school biology class and review the stages of sleep:

STAGE 1. This is when you’re drifting off to sleep, floating between the place of wakefulness and snoozing. This lasts a few minutes as your brain waves begin to slow down.

STAGE 2. You’re still in a state of light sleep. Your heartbeat and breathing continue to slow; your muscles continue to relax. Your eye movements stop, and your brain wave activity is further slowed, save for a few, brief bursts of activity. You spend more of your sleep cycle time in this stage than in any others.

STAGE 3. This is your deep sleep: the holy grail to feeling rested and ready to own whatever the next day holds. This stage tends to happen more in the earlier hours of the night. Your heartbeat and breathing are at their slowest in the sleep cycle. This is that stage when you’re trying to shake someone awake but they just won’t wake up.

REM sleep. This is the stage where your dreams are most active. As you get older, less of your sleep is spent in REM.

You cycle through these four stages of sleep multiple times throughout the night.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU SLEEP?

When you snuggle into bed at night give yourself over to 8 hours of unconsciousness (sleep is weird when you think about it, isn’t it?), your body gets to work.

Ever notice that when you’ve had a late night, you’re hungrier? Blame your lack of sleep: when you sleep, your body produces a hormone called leptin. Leptin is the hormone that tells you, “Hey homie, you’re full, stop eating.” But when you haven’t had enough sleep, you produce more of the hunger biochemical called ghreline.

When you snooze, your brain also gets to work organizing and clearing out its inbox: taking all the information you’ve received in a day, and deciding what’s important to remember and what to archive. (Yes, our brains are very, very cool.)

Research also shows that those who regularly sleep a healthy 7 - 9 hours per night are less likely to suffer from the symptoms of depression.

During sleep, you also make more white blood cells to arm your immune system, and create hormones that encourage tissue growth. All good things to keep you living your healthiest self!

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DON’T SLEEP?

Regularly skimping on sleep puts you at risk for a whole host of health issues.

OBESITY.

Studies show “that people who habitually sleep less than six hours per night are much more likely to have a higher than average body mass index (BMI) and that people who sleep eight hours have the lowest BMI.”

Remember the note above about our biochemical and hormone friends, ghrelin (the hungry signal) and leptin (the hormone that tells your brain it’s full)? When you sleep less, these get wonky.

In addition to this, a lack of sleep also upsets other hormonal balances in our body: levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) increase, as well as insulin, and “higher levels of insulin are associated with weight gain.”

No bueno. Get your sleep, people.

CARDIOVASCULAR ISSUES.

Women, listen up: a study found that those who didn’t get a lot of sleep AND those who got too much sleep (9+ hours) had an increase risk of heart disease.

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MENTAL HEALTH.

We all know how we can become straight-up grumps on days after a poor night sleep. But a lack of sleep doesn’t only affect our weight or heart health, it also affects our brain. Studies show that “chronic sleep issues have been correlated with depression, anxiety, and mental distress.”

We’ve said this before, but we’ll say it again: proper sleep is one of the biggest acts of self-care that you can offer yourself.

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LIFE EXPECTANCY.

Sleep: your life depends on it. Data shows “that sleeping five hours or less per night increased mortality risk from all causes by roughly 15 percent.”

POOR WORK PERFORMANCE.

As mentioned above, a lack of sleep affects your brain, and you need a fully-functioning brain to excel at your job, right?

For instance, the part of your brain that is “responsible for many higher-level cognitive functions and is particularly vulnerable to a lack of sleep.” So tasks that require a lot of logical thinking? Those become more difficult for you when you’re not getting enough sleep.

Managers should care about this, too: a Harvard study “found that, for the average worker, insomnia leads to the loss of 11.3 days’ worth of productivity each calendar year.”

DANGEROUS DRIVING.

A lack of sleep can endanger others, too. You’ve heard it said that drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as drunk driving.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that “72,000 crashes, 44,000 injuries, and 800 deaths in 2013.”

A lack of sleep not only putting yourself at risk, but others that you share the road with.

HOW CAN YOU DEVELOP HEALTHY SLEEP HABITS?

Lay off the alcohol. Those couple of glasses of wine before bed might help you fall asleep, but it doesn’t help you stay asleep. As your body processes the alcohol, it affects the part of your brain that disrupts your sleep. And if you remember from our brief high school biology #tbt lesson earlier in the post, it’s the later stages of sleep that benefits your body most. Alcohol disrupts this sleep cycle, leading to a less restful night sleep.

Put the technology away. Our bodies were made to work with the rhythms of natural light. With technology comes artificial light, and modern-day habits have us scrolling through our college ex’s new girlfriend’s Instagram as we lay in bed. This exposure to light lowers our levels of melatonin, which helps us sleep. Not only does stalking other people on social media leave you feeling crummy, but it also affects your ability to fall asleep at night. Put the phone, laptop, and TV away 2-3 hours before bedtime so that your body can fall asleep more easily.

Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Yes, even weekends, folks. Speaking from the experience of someone whose body now wakes them up without an alarm clock prior to 6am, your body was made to work rhythmically. Our bodies really do work like a clock: by having a regular bedtime and a regular wake-up time, you help your body stick to its natural circadian rhythm, offering yourself the chance for better, more restful sleep.

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Eat dinner at the right time. There’s mixed research about whether or not eating at night adversely affects sleep, but the current research suggests that large meals before bedtime be avoided, whereas small “nutrient-dense” meals before bed are okay. Good news for those who exercise at night: research also shows that exercising in the evening does not keep you from getting a good night’s rest.

Our perfect evening wind-down? A healthy dinner at 6pm with our favorite people, followed by switching our phone to airplane mode and then digging into a book while soaking in a bubblebath.

We dare you:

For the next month, challenge yourself to develop the perfect evening wind-down routine that allows you to get the best sleep you can. Then see how you’re feeling in a month; we bet you’ll feel more energy than you ever had before!

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