Good Night’s Sleep Is the Key to Health and Happiness
Do you want to lose weight, have more energy, focus better, decrease anxiety, improve your health, reduce stress, feel happier, or all of the above?
It all starts with a simple act: a quality night’s sleep.
Women normally significantly underestimate the importance of sleep. In fact, priority is typically given to everything else!
A restorative night’s sleep is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.
The Science of Sleep
Proper rest plays a vital role in each person’s overall health and well-being. It’s a critical element needed for the body to balance and regulate vital systems. Your sleeping and waking pattern is naturally governed by its circadian rhythm.
What are Circadian Rhythms?
The circadian rhythms are 24-hour cycles that run our body’s internal clock and play an essential role in the sleep-wake cycle.
Keeping it aligned leads to restful sleep, hormonal balance, and functional energy metabolism.
The body’s internal timekeeping device is logically synchronized to the rising and the setting of the sun. Many of the body’s systems are calibrated to the appearance and disappearance of that natural light.
The presence and absence of light lets the body know when it’s time to release the hormones that make you tired or alert.
While it’s possible to override the system, you feel better when you follow a natural resting pattern. A good night’s sleep starts with following the natural light cycle.
The circadian rhythm is associated with rising and falling levels of hormones that control the natural daily routines of your body.
One natural hormone that plays a role in the regulation of this cycle is melatonin, released by the body in response to light and darkness.
Melatonin encourages the body into an easier sleep transition while also promoting quality rest.
Another hormone that plays a role in your nighttime routine is cortisol, the stress hormone.
Cortisol rises in the morning to help with wakefulness and alertness. It then falls in the evening so that you can start preparing for rest and, ultimately, bedtime.
Irregular fluctuations in cortisol lead to wakefulness during the night, reducing total quality sleep.
If you have ever suddenly woken up in the middle of the night fully awake, there is a good chance you experienced a sudden rush of cortisol.
How Much Sleep do You Really Need?
The Sleep Foundation’s guidelines recommend that adults between the ages of 26 and 64 sleep from 7 to 9 hours each night.
However, the exact number of hours you need to get sufficient rest to start a new day full of energy varies from one person to another. Moreover, the quality that you get and the timing also determine how rested you feel.
Sleep and Mental Health
Getting a quality night’s sleep is essential for maintaining good mental health.
A lack of sleep can lead to irritability, mood swings, and an inability to focus. A chronic lack can also contribute to depression and anxiety.
Sleep and Anxiety
In a vicious cycle, lack of quality rest can lead to anxiety, and anxiety in turn can cause insomnia. Chronic sleep deprivation also generates imbalanced hormone levels that drive anxiety levels even higher.
While anxiety is sometimes linked to worries in everyday life, it’s important for women to realize that it can also be caused by natural hormonal imbalances in middle age. Perimenopause morning anxiety is a common symptom.
It’s undoubtedly a difficult cycle that can be challenging to break out of, but it’s definitely still possible!
Sleep and Depression
One of the common signs of depression is poor rest quality and quantity. People who are depressed might find themselves having difficulties falling and staying asleep or waking up early.
Depression can also manifest in tiredness throughout the day, resulting in longer naps. Of course, this can then lead to further difficulties at night.
Suffering from disrupted nights makes it more difficult to regulate emotions, making people more susceptible to negative feelings and depression.
Sleep and Stress
It has been shown that stress increases when you are sleep-deprived because the body produces more cortisol and adrenaline to compensate.
The good news? A good night’s rest equates to better stress management!
Working towards a consistent sleep-wake schedule and consciously reducing the stressors in your daily life can have a positive impact the cycle.
Sleep and Cognitive Performance
Not getting enough rest can actually affect your cognitive performance too. It plays a key role in focus, decision-making ability, memory consolidation, problem-solving, creativity, emotional processing, and judgment.
Conversely, a lack of sleep can be compared to drinking alcohol in terms of how it impairs cognition.
A study suggests that 17 to 19 hours of sleeplessness is equivalent to having an alcohol level of 0.05%. For comparison purposes, in Florida, it’s illegal to drive with an alcohol level of 0.08%.
The same study showed that sleep-deprived individuals performed with a 50% slower response in some tests when compared to individuals with an alcohol level of 0.05%.
Sleep and Weight Loss
Are you eating a healthy, balanced diet and still not losing weight?
Not sleeping enough alters how the reward system in your brain perceives junk food. Yes, that means those sugar cravings might be directly related to your nighttime habits!
People who don’t get enough rest tend to eat more sugar-loaded foods and more processed carbohydrates, like chips, cookies, and bread. Your body is smart; it knows that the quickest energy hit comes from anything sugar-packed!
Moreover, getting insufficient rest changes the normal function of the hormones that regulate your appetite and satiety.
Ghrelin, the hunger hormone, increases when you don’t catch enough Zs. Unfortunately, this is the exact opposite action that we want when we’re trying to lose–or even maintain–weight.
Poor sleep quality can also be a trigger for your adrenal glands to secrete more of the stress hormone, cortisol. An unhealthy influx of cortisol causes stress belly– an accumulation of fat around the abdomen.
This stress belly is significant because it acts as visceral fat that engulfs our most important internal organs. This type of fat is most dangerous because it is responsible for the inflammation that leads to chronic disease.
Inconsistent alterations in hormone levels paired with changes in the perception of the reward system–it’s not surprising that many studies suggest that lack of rest is a leading cause of weight gain.
Sleep and Insulin Resistance
Insulin is the hormone that helps the cells take glucose from food (aka energy from carbohydrates) so that every body part can operate at its most efficient and effective.
Lack of sleep decreases insulin sensitivity. This means that cells do not allow insulin to bring the glucose inside.
The result? The body panics and responds by making more insulin.
This excess insulin makes most people feel hungrier, and they then eat more. In the long-term, it can lead to chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes.
Sleep Can Improve Menopause Symptoms
Proper rest is critical for alleviating the uncomfortable symptoms of menopause.
It can help with menopause symptoms in a few ways.
First, getting enough of it can help to regulate your hormones, lessening your symptoms.
Second, it reduces stress, which is well known for aggravating menopause issues.
Third, sleep is a time for your body to rest and rejuvenate, which improves your overall energy, mood, and brain function.
Last, a good night’s rest can help with weight loss.
If you’re struggling with menopause symptoms, try to make sure you maintain good nighttime habits.
Tips to Improve Sleep
Despite all of this bad news on how lack of sleep can negatively impact your day-to-day life, there are very basic steps you can take to improve your rest habits and get the most out of your shut-eye.
Here are some tips for getting a good night’s sleep:
- Establish a good nighttime routine.
- Budget time for it and avoid sleep procrastination.
- Cut screen time one to two hours before bedtime so your melatonin production can begin at the appropriate time.
- Create an environment in your bedroom conducive to a good night.
- Calm your mind with appropriate music or sleep cast.
- Keep your room temperature low.
- Limit your coffe and alcohol, especially in the evening.
- Limit added sugar in the evening time.
- Include physical activity during the daytime, as that will promote a more restful night.
- Avoid long naps (over 30 minutes)
You can read more in-depth about sleep strategies in our blog.
The Bottom Line
When you’re reading this article, I hope it’s not on a bright screen while in bed, just before lights out!
Most people know that getting a good night’s sleep is important, but many don’t realize just how vital it is to their overall health and happiness.
Your rest habits impact your hormones, and that has a direct impact on your body’s ability to manage emotions and appetite.
The best part is that the strategies to improve sleep are pretty basic. They just require some consistency over time to experience tangible improvement.
Dr. Su-Nui Escobar is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist in Miami, FL. She is passionate about helping women over 40 live their best lives through healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle. Su-Nui is a doctor in clinical nutrition, able to translate complicated evidence-based science into practical advice. Su-Nui is the former spokesperson of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.