Energy is your most precious resource — it takes a lot of energy to get up from that comfy couch to exercise, to plan and prepare meals week after week, and to make new choices every day instead of falling back on old habits. Most people don’t realize how essential energy is to making healthy choices. Just like your body, your brain needs fuel to keep you on your game. In fact, when your brain lacks energy in the form of glucose, you’re more likely to make poor decisions. In a revealing study, researchers offered people the option of a little money tomorrow, or a lot of money at a later date. Individuals who had enough glucose in their
bloodstream agreed to wait for the bigger payoff. Those with low glucose levels took the quick cash. The upshot: when you have to decide between instant gratification and doing what’s best for you in the long run, you want energy on your side.
To stay energized, you need a relatively steady stream of glucose to your brain and body. Food has a major impact on your energy, but it’s not the only factor that matters. Sleep is even more important.
You’ve probably had nights when you couldn’t fall asleep, no matter how desperately you tried.
When you can’t sleep, the ticking of the clock only reminds you of your exhaustion and the endless hours until morning. And perhaps you finally drop off around dawn only to be jolted up by the alarm an hour later.
Insomnia, the term for having trouble sleeping at night, is one of the most common sleep complaints. About one in three adults has bouts of insomnia that last a few days at a time. This is acute insomnia. But one in 10 adults suffers ongoing difficulty sleeping, known as chronic insomnia. There are many different definitions for chronic insomnia, but a commonly accepted one is insomnia that occurs more than three nights a week for at least three months.
Insomnia affects people in different ways. If you suffer from it, you may not be able to go to sleep or you may not be able to stay asleep. You might constantly wake up earlier than you would like, perhaps in the wee hours of the morning, and find yourself unable to go back to sleep. Women are more likely to have insomnia than men. It is also more common among shift workers who don’t have consistent sleep schedules, people with low incomes, people who have a history of depression and those who don’t get much physical activity.
WHAT CAUSES INSOMNIA?
Insomnia has many possible causes. The reasons you’re lying awake when you don’t want to be are personal. They can include any or all of these:
- Medications that interfere with sleep
- Dietary choices, such as caffeine late in the day, that interfere with sleep
- Stressful thoughts, depression, chronic pain
- Recent upheavals in your life, such as a divorce or death of a loved one
- Hormone changes, such as those accompanying menopause
- Bedtime habits that don’t lead to restful sleep
- Medical conditions such as acid reflux, thyroid problems, stroke, or asthma
- Substances like alcohol and nicotine
- Travel, especially between time zones
WHAT ARE THE COMPLICATIONS OF INSOMNIA?
Insomnia can have serious complications. Poor sleep quality is linked to:
- Increased risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
- Excessive weight gain (obesity) and depression
- Increased risk for injury to yourself or others, such as a car accident caused by driving while drowsy
THE SLEEP-WEIGHT CONNECTION
If you suffer insomnia, it could be affecting your weight. Being under-slept knocks hunger hormones out of balance, sending you in search of food—junk food, that is. Studies suggest that a lack of sleep can spark specific cravings for carbohydrates and other fattening treats. Sleeping more, on the other hand, can help you lose weight.
Depending on what’s keeping you awake, one or more of these strategies can also make a difference:
1. Kick your laptop out of bed. Working or browsing between the sheets causes
you to associate your bed with something other than rest and relaxation, which is
counter-productive. Your bed should be reserved for sleep, sex, and calming
activities like light reading, stretching and meditating.
2. Say goodnight to stress. Instead of buzzing around, establish a relaxing ritual
before bedtime. It might be deep breathing, a warm shower, or twenty minutes with a good book. Make it the one thing you do every night before bed. Before long, that ritual will ‘signal’ your brain that it’s time to wind down.
3. Create a sleep cave. Bears hibernate in dark, cool, quiet caves for a reason.
These conditions are optimal for deep sleep. Banish light by turning off all screens
and investing in dark curtains – or just wear a sleep mask. Drown out noises, wear light clothing and, finally, keep the room temperature cool.
Tweak Your Sleep Schedule.
If you’re having a lot of trouble drifting off at night, the American Sleep Association recommends specific times each day when you should stop engaging in sleep-disrupting behaviours. Take a look at the graph below. Suspect one of these behaviours is keeping you awake? Set a cut-off time and stick to it for a week to see if it helps.
How often do you wake up feeling rested? What could you change about your habits and
environment to improve the quality of your sleep?
Until next time, get your zzzzh’s and remember that your health matters!
Dr. Ramat Lawal-Unuigbe