Sleep quality and the amount of sleep we get a night is important for so many factors in our lives.

We all know we should be aiming for about 8 hours of good quality sleep a night.

As little as a couple of nights of sleep deprivation (averaging 5.5 hours of sleep) can cause damage to our body and mind.

Sleep Deprivation and Weight Loss

When we don’t get adequate amounts of sleep appetite increases and we crave higher calorie, quick energy releasing foods like sugar and processed food. If you are already in a calorie deficit in an attempt to shift some weight then a not getting enough sleep can spell disaster for your will power. Studies show that, in otherwise healthy women, just 4 days of sleep deprivation can lead to a 20% increase in calorie intake. Sleep deprivation can also effect your nutrient partitioning – whether calories are used/stored as fat or muscle. It’s a vicious cycle, sleep less, eat more and store more as fat rather than muscle. It also work the other way around. If you do manage to maintain a calorie deficit while sleep deprived, your weight loss is more likely to be from muscle mass than stored fat.

Metabolic Syndromes

The occurrence of insulin resistance, hypertrophy (high blood pressure) and obesity are all increased by lack of sleep. With insulin resistance comes a greater risk of diabetes. Although there are studies which show a greater risk of insulin resistance of continued prolonged sleep of 9+ hours. (Oh how lovely would that be!)

Cognitive Function and Memory

Impaired sleep goes hand in hand with impaired cognitive function. We know driving tired is dangerous. Not only because we might fall asleep at the wheel, but we are slower to react and make more mistakes; missing turnings, unintentional speeding, not spotting a cyclist when turning out from a junction etc. REM sleep is also the time our brain converts short term memories into long term memories. The term baby brain is there for a reason!

Cortisol – the stress hormone

Cortisol is the stress hormone. It runs on a fairly consistent cycle of peaking in the morning to help us wake up and dropping off in the evenings to help us sleep, leveling out throughout the day. The stress hormone, it is an important hormone to have, as long as it is kept in balance. Regular occurrences of sleep deprivation can cause all-day cortisol levels to rise. This adds to the metabolic syndromes noted above as well as lowering mood and reducing energy levels.

So what if we CAN’T get enough sleep?

This all sounds pretty bad right? If you’re a mum (or dad) of a newborn or shift worker are you doomed to a life of crashing your car, over eating and forgetfulness?

Unless you’re very strict on your sleep, and have no work or small people to mess with your sleep cycle, we will all have some degree of sleep deprivation over our lives.

What can we do to aid our sleep even with factors out of our control messing with the program?

Here are some do’s and don’t’s to help you get off to sleep easier and have better quality sleep overall.

DON’T – use devices with blue light before bed. The blue light of an iphone, tablet and TV disrupts your melatonin levels (the sleepy hormone). However this isn’t always an option. We work take, we check social media, we watch a film or series before bed as our way to unwind for the evening. If you don’t want to switch off all devices and actually talk to your partner in the evenings, have a look at the settings on your devices and see if you can turn the brightness down or onto a night mode to minimise the blue light disturbance.

DO exercise! Exercise not only burns more energy throughout the day leading to better sleep quality, but it also help to regulate hormones, so if you do work shifts or have a little person keeping you up at night, exercise can help to balance your cortisol, melatonin and insulin levels. Even if the only time you can fit exercise in is late at night, studies show it’s better than nothing. As long as you take some time after your workout to stretch off and shower it shouldn’t disrupt your sleep.

DON’T leave the TV or radio on to fall asleep. If you need to sleep while other family members are up and about try using ear plugs. If you struggle falling asleep in silence with the random noises of the outside world try using white noise to drift off. The consistent steady sound of a white noise machine is easier to drift off to and often quite soothing compared to the sound of people talking which we can’t help but tune in to.

DO have a bedtime routine. Ideally we would all go to bed at the same time every night and get a full 7-8 hours uninterrupted sleep. If this isn’t possible, you can help your body prepare for sleep by having a consistent bedtime routine.  This can be as simple as brushing your teeth and putting on pyjamas. If you need a little longer to settle down try 10 minutes of meditation once you’re ready for bed, or read 10 minutes of a book once in bed to help you relax.

DON’T drink too much coffee or alcohol before bed. Both are stimulants, as well as sugar and nicotine, so are best avoided before bed. Depending on your caffeine sensitivity will depend on when you could have your last coffee without it effecting your sleep.

DO ensure you are getting enough magnesium in your diet. Athletes and the elderly are more likely to have lower levels of magnesium. If you find you are struggling to get enough in through diet alone then supplementing some magnesium before bed can help you drift off into a good nights sleep. Don’t go above the upper limit of 350mg of magnesium supplementation. If you are already getting enough through your diet then supplementing with more won’t help your sleep.

So if you are a parent of a little person who steals your precious sleep, remember this won’t last forever! One day they will be teenagers you struggle to get out of bed. In the mean time, stock the fridge with healthy snack to grab when the low energy cravings hit. Try to get a workout in. Even if its a quick 10 minutes in the garden it’s better than nothing at all. Try to avoid picking up your phone during the night feeds. I know it can be boring and make the nights feel never ending, but staring into the darkness will help you get back off to sleep easier than flicking through facebook to pass away the time.

Night shift workers; get a good bedtime routine, try to block out as much background noise and light as possible and make sure you are getting enough magnesium in your diet to help you get to sleep when your sleep schedule has to adapt to your shift pattern.

I’d love to hear any other tips for sleep from you. If you work shifts, how do you combat the irregular sleep? What are your top tips for getting to sleep while the rest of the world is wide awake?

Here’s my little sleep thief catching up on some zzz’s

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