THE TRUE VALUE OF SLEEP
When you have a autoimmune disease or immune dysfunction sleep is not something you can ever take for granted again. As I sit here currently typing this blog post, I am surviving on zero, yep that's right ZERO sleep - last night I had a horrendous night and literally could not get a wink of sleep, my insomnia was out of control.
So many things change in your life — your shopping list, your approach to cooking, and the attention you pay to nutrition labels, just to name a few. Even with this attention to detail, though, you may still over look and deny your body a critical aid in the fight against inflammation: the practice of getting enough sleep.
Sleep is particularly important for those with autoimmune disease. The effects of getting inadequate sleep can compound over time, and the problem is that we all find it so easy to sacrifice sleep. Unfortunately, sometimes it cannot be helped and life interferes - the unfortunate reality of insomnia, household responsibilities, work/ study deadlines, or perhaps we just want to spend some more time with those we love - or better yet have some 'me time'.
- People are getting less sleep than ever before, perhaps because of the busy lifestyle we now all lead.
- 60% of women are sleep deprived and on average we get about six and a half hours of sleep per night — many of us are getting less than five... CRAZY!
- It is so evident that many of us are not getting enough sleep, and research is showing that our chronic sleep deprivation is causing irreversible damage to our health.
WHAT IS SLEEP DEBT?
It’s culturally acceptable to devalue sleep and it's importance in our lives. When we experience sleepiness we usually know we are overtired, yet we dismiss the connections that sleepiness has to many health problems. We fuel up with coffee, tea, or energy drinks and push through. Many people even pride themselves on how little sleep they need to function! But poor sleep is nothing to brag about. Poor sleep quality and short sleep duration are associated with higher levels of inflammation and illness. Sleep should truly be one of the cornerstones of our health strategy.
The average amount of sleep that we need for optimum performance, is typically seven to nine hours per night. When we get less than our sleep need we build up what is called “sleep debt.” Sleep debt is the difference between the amount of sleep we should be getting and the amount we actually get.
As our sleep deficit grows, the consequences become more alarming. It starts with foggy thinking, daytime sleepiness, impaired attention, increased cortisol levels, a weakened immune system, accelerated aging, mood instability, impaired memory, and compromised judgment. All of these factors have dramatic implications for our quality of life and overall health. (Illustrating this point further, those in poverty have an even harder time getting back on their feet when sleep deprived.)
In the long term, the low-level inflammation caused by sleep loss actually increases the risk of obesity, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. Sleep deprivation has actually been shown to take year's off ones life. How can you improve things?
SLEEP DEBT RECOVERY
Many of us try to make up for sleep on the weekends or “when we get a chance” — but is that really enough? Unfortunately, getting extra sleep does not necessarily restore all of our systems. Sleep deprivation is a lot more complex than most think and how difficult sleep debt is harder to repay than initially thought (which I am learning a lot about currently, every time my insomnia plays up or I have a flare and I have a nights where I am lucky to get 1-2 hours).
“Short-term” sleep debt is more hopeful than long-term. Those who sleep four hours nightly six days in a row developed higher blood pressure, increased cortisol levels, and weakened immune systems. The sleep-deprived subjects also showed signs of insulin resistance — a precursor of type 2 diabetes. All of these changes typically reverse when they hours of sleep lost has been made up. However, some short-term sleep loss studies have shown that baseline cortisol levels and attention span are not easily regained with sleep recovery.
However, most of us don't fit into the “short-term” sleep loss isn’t the category. We are chronic offenders. Consider this — if we lose an hour of sleep every night for a year, that adds up to a sleep deficit of two full weeks. Some researchers say that if you build up more than twenty hours of sleep debt you may not be able to fully reverse its harmful effects... not ideal!
Although we may not be able to recover all functionality from high sleep deficits, we can begin to work our way out of the red by tacking on an extra hour or more of rest per night. So rather than binge sleeping, it is better to increase sleep over a long period of time. It can still take months to begin to feel rested and regain some functionality.
INVEST IN YOUR SLEEP
We need to fundamentally change our approach to sleep if we are going to achieve our best health. Here are some tips to successfully help the sleep-deprived:
- Change your mindset. Many of us see sleep as an indulgence or a luxury. Remember that sleep is just as important for health as diet and exercise.
- Settle short-term debt. If you missed ten hours of sleep in a week, add three to four extra sleep hours on the weekend and an extra hour or two per night the following week until you have “repaid” the debt.
- Address long-term debt. Plan time off or a period of time with minimal work or obligations. Go to bed as soon as you are tired and turn off the alarm clock—sleep until you naturally wake.
- Avoid accumulating new debt. Determine your “sleep need” and factor it into your daily schedule. Try to consistently go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, or at the very least on weekdays.
I know it’s discouraging that we can’t perfectly recover from chronic sleep deprivation. However, I hope this inspires you are to start chipping away at your sleep debt and to avoid accumulating new deficits. Let’s start viewing our “sleep need” as non-negotiable in our daily routines and start off 2017 with a new 'sleep debt' free slate.
Happy snoozing loves x.