Those who do not get enough sleep may be at an increased risk for:
Lack of sleep, in this case, 6 hours or less, is associated with poorer health outcomes.
Future articles will dive into the mechanisms of how lack of sleep increases your risk for these diseases and conditions.
For now, what are some steps we can improve our sleep?
Practicing what is called Sleep Hygiene.
While this list may seem overwhelming, maybe just start with one item on this list and notice how you feel.
Once this one practice has become habitual, we can try adding another one.
Just like sleep, the stress response serves a purpose.
However, society is operating in a chronic state of sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) activation and we have a hard time activating the parasympathetic nervous system (rest & digest).
First we will look at what is happening on the physiological level when we are stressed.
The following processes are occurring:
In the context of imminent danger, we definitely want all of these processes to occur. It greatly increases our chances of survival and/or allows us to protect someone we love.
Is it necessary in the context of driving in traffic, when you are feeling financial pressure, or studying for an exam?
No, not at all.
Imagine what the long term consequences would be if your body was always in the stress response?
Chronically high blood sugar: diabetes
Chronically high blood pressure: increased risk for stroke and cardiovascular disease
Altered immune function: getting sick all the time
The list goes on.
I get it, this is easier said than done though. Life trials are a reality.
So how do we manage the worrisome thoughts and stress response when it arrises?
Ever have a thought that pops into your head and all of a sudden you notice your heart is racing, you feel some slight tension in your neck and/or shoulders, and you now cannot get it out of mind? Maybe it is something negative, a conflict with an individual in your life, or a task you need to complete.
I’ll be honest, that happens to me quite a bit.
Here are some practices that can be helpful in those situations:
This is not at all an exhaustive list of techniques that can be useful, but can be a great starting place if you currently do not have a practice or tool in those situations.
These practices work by activating the parasympathetic nervous system (rest & digest) and suppressing the sympathetic nervous system.
Gratitude journaling retrains your mind to look at the positives in life, which greatly improves our wellbeing and mental health.
Similarly to sleep, I will write future articles touching on the specific science of the mentioned practices and their influence on stress physiology and the science of stress on our health. So stay on the lookout for those!
Don’t stress! Just kidding!
But seriously, do not let the information on how sleep and stress impact your health discourage you.
First, ask yourself, “What is going well in my life?” or “What am I doing well with regards to sleep and stress management?”
Next, find something from the sleep hygiene list and/or the stress management tips that you could apply now. There are many free meditation and deep breathing apps you can download today that can get you closer to your health goals.
Let’s start making changes!
Unsure about how much sleep I need per night
Experimenting with different sleep durations & testing for improvements through reflexes & based on how you feel
Cannot imagine giving up caffeine or not drinking caffeine in the afternoon
Perform short-term experiments to establish caffeine sensitivity & evaluate how improving sleep quality may affect need for caffeine, Strategically reintroduce
Alcohol helps me fall asleep, why would I not drink it before bed
Explore other ways of relaxing and winding down & learn about alcohol’s affects on REM sleep
Have tried meditating in the past and I did not enjoy it
Identify other forms of mindfulness that you may enjoy & establish what you are wanting to gain from the practice
Unsure about what to start with, improving my sleep or managing my stress levels?
Establish what feels doable, right now, and what would provide the most immediate benefit