Happy new year everyone!
For the first time in 6 years, I stayed up last night to see in 2016 with my partner. Our children went to bed at 10pm (3 hours past their bedtime) so it seemed reasonable to assume they would sleep in this morning, and we could get away with staying up for a whole 3 hours past our bedtime too… Oh, what a mistake. They were up bright and early before 7am, which is almost an hour later than they would usually get up, but meant we had just 6 hours sleep. And for me, it was 6 hours of broken sleep, dealing with a sleep walking 3 year old at 4am AND at 6am…
For those who have never experienced it, let me tell you: sleep deprivation is not fun or good for your health.
I actually feel qualified to say that, after 6 years of restricted sleep, broken sleep, early mornings, and the odd night of no sleep thrown in for fun (clearly their fun, not mine!)
Short term (one or two sleep restricted nights) the effects include the obvious fatigue, brain fog, sugar cravings, and grumpiness, but repeat those sleep restrictions too frequently, and you’re left with raised cortisol levels (feeling “wired but tired”), insulin resistance, and a subsequent increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Throw in a lowered libido, and things are really not looking too dreamy.
Long term (weeks, months, or even years of sleep restricted nights) the risks are far greater. We’re talking autoimmune diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus, psoriasis, type 2 diabetes, and more. Then there’s the increased risk of cardiovascular disease. It’s enough to give you insomnia just thinking about it!
But this blog isn’t about looking for your sympathy (though, feel free to offer it!)
I’m writing this because I know I’m not the only person with children who think sleep is for wimps, and even if you don’t have children, with modern lifestyles and high levels of stress for many there’s a high chance that you’re burning the candle at both ends too – the studies show that “work hard, play hard” isn’t a recipe for success anymore either.
So, if we can’t (or won’t) change our sleep habits, what can we do to lessen the effects on our wellbeing?
- Resist the temptation to use sugary foods, coffee, or any other caffeinated drinks to give you energy – the high will only be temporary, and you’ll end up craving more or, heaven forbid, feeling even worse than you did! Go for nutrient dense foods like nuts and seeds, and perk them up with a bit of Himalayan salt, or perhaps a few oatcakes with almond or peanut butter. Green tea is a good alternative to coffee with a lower caffeine content, or choose herbal teas (I love Pukka teabags).
- Spend one or two hours a week preparing huge batches of heart-warming soups or casseroles, then freeze them in individual portions. A homemade “ready-meal” is the perfect way to stop you eating your way through all the Nutella with a spoon because you’re just too tired to cook.
- Go to bed as early as possible! My children go to bed at 7pm, and are up by 6am everyday, without fail. My bedtime most nights is now somewhere between 9pm and 30pm. If I didn’t need to eat/run a business/research college assignments, I would be in bed at 7pm too!
- Grab a 15 minute power nap if you need it. For those with children, everyone who told you to “sleep when the baby sleeps” was right. Now, this only works if you have just one child at home, or no children. But yes, short naps have been proven to improve attention spans for the rest of the day.
- Download yourself a guided meditation app for your phone (Headspace is great for 10 minute sessions, and the first 10 sessions are free) and enjoy the benefits of switching off your brain while you listen. Studies show that meditation can improve insomnia, lower cortisol levels and improve overall quality of life. Try 10 minutes before your day begins (even if that is at 5am on the sofa while your little ones play with their toys, or 8.30am squashed on the central line with your nose in someone else’s armpit). If you like it, why not do it at the end of your day too?
- If you can’t handle meditation, then how about adult colouring-in books? Or painting with watercolours? If you have children, you can even colour in their books (if they’ll let you!) or play with their paints or their play dough. Again, 10 minutes at the start of your day can be very therapeutic, and incredibly beneficial to your wellbeing. Plus the kids will love you playing with them…
- If you’ve never tried it, then find a class near to you, and experience the health improvements that yoga can provide such as lowered anxiety and stress levels. Once you feel confident with a range of positions, you can practice in your own home and in your own time. Try to do an hour session at least once a week, if not twice a week.
- Find an exercise you enjoy, and spend time once or twice a week enjoying it. It could be walking, running, cross fit, swimming, exercise DVDs… whatever floats your boat. If you enjoy it, then do it. If you don’t, then stop. You don’t need more stress!
- When you feel like everything is on top of you, take time out to just stop and do some deep breathing. Take 10 deep breaths, and remind yourself that you’re only human/you only have one pair of hands/life happens, etc.
And of course, if children are the reason you’re sleep deprived, call in as many favours as you can to help you out. Family, friends, other parents… if someone offers to have your child for a few hours (and you know and trust them) then let them! And if they offer to do the night shift for you, then you can laugh hysterically at the state of them the next day (and then show them this blog post to help them cope!)
Love Kate x
- http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20054188 Influence of partial sleep deprivation on energy balance and insulin sensitivity in healthy women.
- http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19337560 Sleep restriction increases white blood cells, mainly neutrophil count, in young healthy men.
- http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20371664 A single night of partial sleep deprivation induces insulin resistance in multiple metabolic pathways in healthy subjects.
- http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17524614 The effects of 40 hours of total sleep deprivation on inflammatory markers in healthy young adults.
- http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14592192 Sleep duration and mortality: The effect of short or long sleep duration on cardiovascular and all-cause mortality in working men and women.
- http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14975482 Effect of sleep loss on C-reactive protein, an inflammatory marker of cardiovascular risk.
- http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17431741 The relevance of sleep abnormalities to chronic inflammatory condition.
- http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22844441 Impact of five nights of sleep restriction on glucose metabolism, leptin and testosterone in young adult men.
- http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21162647 Sleep disturbances and inflammatory bowel disease: a potential trigger for disease flare?
- http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19240794 Sleep restriction increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease by augmenting proinflammatory responses through IL-17 and CRP.
- http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26390335 The value of mindfulness meditation in the treatment of insomnia.
- http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14749092 Mindfulness-based stress reduction in relation to quality of life, mood, symptoms of stress and levels of cortisol, dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS) and melatonin in breast and prostate cancer outpatients.
- http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16124661 Recuperative power of a short daytime nap with or without stage 2 sleep.
- http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22502620 The effects of yoga on anxiety and stress.