Sleep Awareness Week: More Zzz, Better Life
Dr. Kara's Health Insights

Sleep Awareness Week: More Zzz, Better Life

by DK Kara MD on Mar 22, 2022

After brushing your teeth, you put on your sleep clothes and make your way into bed. It’s been a long day, and it’s nice to finally relax.

Sleep is just as important to a healthy life as wholesome food, exercise, and a healthy mindset. The average person spends about 30% of their life in this altered state, so it’s worth prioritizing.

March has a full week dedicated to sleep awareness, and celebrates all the reasons why it matters. 

Let’s look at why sleep is important, what happens when you’re sleeping, and ways you can have a better life by getting more of them.   

Why Sleep Matters

Burning the midnight candle is necessary every now and then, but if you have a habit of getting less than 6 hours of sleep, your health can suffer. Research shows not getting enough sleep can:

  • Weaken your immune system: When you don’t get enough sleep, your body isn’t able to handle the problems of the day. This leads to a lowered immune system function, making it easier for you to get sick (11).
  • Increase your chances of weight gain: as people who don't sleep well, may not produce enough of the hormone leptin, which regulates your appetite (8).
  • Lead to circulation problems:  lack of sleep can allow a buildup of fatty material in your blood vessels. This can increase your heart rate and blood pressure to unhealthy levels (12).
  • Increase risk of mood disorders: irritability, depression, anxiety, and other mood alterations rise the longer you go without adequate sleep (15).

Down But Not Out

What happens while you’re asleep might surprise you. Your body and mind aren’t simply put on hold, although things do tend to slow down a bit.

Here are some of the amazing things your body does while you sleep:

  • Hormones are regulated: Growth hormones like leptin and ghrelin are balanced during sleep. These hormones are important for healthy appetite signaling (8).
  • Nerve cells reorganize and communicate: Sleeping helps neurons in your brain organize information for learning and memory, according to studies (10).
  • Cells are repaired: Restorative theory states that sleeping helps with cellular repair. Everything from your muscles, the production of proteins, new tissue growth, and hormone release is all done while you sleep (9).
  • Toxins are eliminated: Mice studies have observed how the brain has the ability to flush toxins out during sleep. This can help offset the development of disease and illness (6).
  • Energy reserves are restored: The energy conservation theory believes that when you’re asleep, your body goes into a lower metabolic rate. This is based on the idea that you don’t need as much energy as you would during the day. Some studies suggest 8 hours of sleep can save around 36% of your daily energy (7).

Tips to get more sleep

Even if you understand the importance of sleep, how can you put it into practice? Here are a few tips you can try today to get better sleep:

    1. Keep a sleep diary: It might seem silly to jot down all the times you wake up or go to sleep, but keeping a sleep diary can help you see patterns or habits that are keeping you from getting a good night’s rest (3).
    2. Plan ahead for sleep: Try to only use your bed to sleep in. Eating, being on your phone, or reading while on your bed can establish psychological associations besides sleep (2). The same rules apply to screen time before bed – blue light has a reputation of being stimulating, which can prevent you from being able to sleep.
    3. Check your mattress condition: If you’ve had the same mattress for as long as you can remember, it might be time for a change. Sagging, allergen buildup, and poor support can make it difficult to sleep well (14).
    4. Prioritize shuteye: Creating a sleep routine can help prepare your body for rest. Having a set time to brush teeth, change clothes, put on calming music, or practice meditation can help transition your body from the busy day to a more relaxed state (1).  
    5. Download a sleep tracking app: smartphones and smartwatches can now be synced to apps that analyze sleep duration, quality, phases, and other factors to give you a better picture of your current sleeping patterns (5). This can help you take the next best steps.
    6. Consider a natural boost: Some situations call for occasional help. Non-prescription sleep aids can be a safe way to help your body relax for sleep. Natural options include melatonin and valerian root supplements. 
    7. Find a sleep doctor: Certain doctors specialize in sleep disorders. Discussing your concerns and having an evaluation may highlight issues you hadn’t thought about, such as restless leg syndrome, insomnia, sleep apnea, or others (13).

Wrap Up

Getting enough rest is crucial to your health and wellness. You weren’t built for the 21st century, and today’s hectic schedules reflect just how true that is.

Not getting enough sleep can affect your memory, make you irritable, and can even lower your resistance to disease.

The good news is, there are ways you can address the problem for a positive change. Forming sleep-friendly habits, being aware of possible sleep disturbances, trying sleep apps, supplements, and checking in with a doctor can all be part of your journey towards better sleep… and a better life.

Do you know someone who struggles to get enough sleep? Make it a point to pass this information along to them!

 References & Disclaimer

(1) https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/sleep/art-20048379

(2) https://health.gov/myhealthfinder/topics/everyday-healthy-living/mental-health-and-relationships/get-enough-sleep

(3) https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-diary

(4) https://www.mattressclarity.com/blog/7-things-national-sleep-awareness-week/

(5) https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/do-sleep-trackers-really-work

(6) https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/how-sleep-clears-brain

(7) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21059762/

(8) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3065172/

(9) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4548518/

(10) https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2007/03/sleep-found-to-repair-and-reorganize-the-brain/

(11) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3256323/

(12) https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/circulationaha.111.062190

(13) https://www.scinternalmedicine.com/2020/01/24/how-can-a-sleep-medicine-doctor-help-you/

(14) https://www.sleepfoundation.org/mattress-construction/signs-of-a-bad-bed

(15) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6456824/

✝✝This noted statement is based on independent research and is not necessarily the opinion of the author