By Emily Roberts MA, LPC
This is your wake-up call—literally. For years we have known that sleep deprivation is bad for our health, but a new study shows it actually destroys brain cells. A study published this week in the Journal of Neuroscience found that staying awake kills brain cells in mice, and researchers suggest it may do the same in humans. It’s the first study to show that sleep loss can lead to irreversible damage.
So, what do we do? 7-8 Hours of sleep sounds fantastic, but for many Americans it’s nearly impossible. Not only is it a time an issue, but getting our brains to shut off can be easier said than done. Stress and hectic schedules make it hard to get the zzz’s one needs. Overtime, cortisol elevations cause shifts in other hormones (such as DHEA, Estrogen, Progesterone, and Testosterone), as well as depletion in neurotransmitter availability. This often leads to sleep cycle disturbances, which then causes more stress on the body and the cycle continues.
We need sleep almost just as much as we need oxygen and food. Recent studies show that sleep may “detox” the brain, flushing out waste products linked to Alzheimer’s and Dementia. Sleep deprivation wears down our normal capacity to deal with daily aggravations and challenges, causing the cycle of stress to wear us down emotionally and physically. Unfortunately, this can’t be fixed with good vibes alone.
One night alone of disrupted sleep lowers the threshold for “stress perception.” When you’re dead tired, or have had weeks of restless nights, just running an errand or getting stuck in traffic can seem dreadful and daunting. It is a huge contributor to irritability, mood swings, and interpersonal relationship troubles (as you can imagine).
6 Ways to Solve Sleep Deprivation
1. Testing your neurotransmitters and cortisol levels is a natural way to balance your sleep cycle. It can be helpful to pinpoint what type of support will provide the fastest relief. Results show what supplementation is needed—and will help work to adjust your sleep cycle. Neurogistics makes this easy with in home testing kits, and customized Brain Wellness Reports.
2. Wind down for 1 hour before bedtime. Ideally this would be unplugged, restorative time (e.g., relaxed reading, bath, or mediation practice). Something to induce the relaxation response. Sleep mediations are all over YouTube and can be listened to as you are lying in bed.
3. Don’t use electronics, even the Nook, an hour before bed. Avoid TV, phone, tablet, emails, Netflix, Hulu, videogames in bed. The light, and the activity stimulates excitatory neurotransmitter activity
4. Decrease Caffeine – it exacerbates anxiety and can create disturbances in your sleep patterns. If you drink coffee, tea or soda and you have anxiety, consider getting off caffeine or stopping before 12PM.
If your aim is to get off the caffeine kick, do this gradually:
- Go from 2 coffees per day to 1.
- Go from having a large coffee to having a small.
- Go from a small coffee to a small half-caf.
- Go from half-caf to black tea.
- Go from black tea to green tea.
- Go from green tea to no caffeine. You can have herbal or decaf tea.
5. Stick to a regular sleep schedule as much as possible. Even on the weekends, try and wake up within 90 minutes of when you do on weekdays.
6. Keep your bedroom dark and cold; even nightlights can keep you awake. Make sure your dreaming den is chilly, this helps you stay under the covers and hit hibernation mode.
Other ways to get your sleep back on track involve taking control of your stress during the day. Delegate tasks, make time for mindfulness and meditation, and practice deep breathing. Grab the good pillows, comfy sheets and get ready for a good night’s sleep. Your body and brain depend on it.
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