We often talk about feeling fatigued and not getting enough sleep in a lighthearted way. There are times, however, when not getting enough sleep can have a serious impact on our quality of life and health.
Effects of Sleep Deprivation
For example, when you’re behind the wheel, fatigue triples a driver’s risk of getting into an accident.
When you don’t get enough sleep, some of the other far-reaching effects on your quality of life can include:
- When you struggle with not getting enough sleep for reasons like chronic insomnia, it can change how your body sends and processes information. Your brain is tired, and it’s not as able to perform its necessary duties.
- Sleep deprivation or fatigue can impact your emotions and make you more likely to experience mood swings.
- You may have more trouble concentrating or learning new things when you don’t get enough sleep.
- When you sleep, your immune system produces infection-fighting substances to combat viruses and bacteria. If you don’t get enough sleep, your immune system might not be able to function at an adequate level.
- When you have long-term sleep deprivation, it can increase your risk of developing chronic health conditions like diabetes.
- Your general health is impacted by how much sleep and the quality of sleep you get. For example, sleep deprivation is a risk factor for obesity. Not getting enough sleep can alter your brain in a way that tells you to eat more, and you may simultaneously feel too tired to exercise regularly.
Sleep and Circadian Rhythm
If you don’t get enough sleep, it could be because your body’s internal clock isn’t functioning the way it should. Circadian rhythms are 24-hour cycles that your body should follow to help you sleep based on environmental cues like day and night.
When you have a circadian rhythm working the way it should, it can help you get not just enough sleep, but also sleep that’s truly restorative.
There’s something dubbed a master clock in a part of our brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus that takes cues from light signals to stay in sync with a 24-hour day. Our hormones go up and down based on this clock.
By understanding and resetting your circadian rhythm, you may be able to take more control of your health and improve your sleep patterns and quality.
Things that can impact your circadian rhythm include pregnancy, medications, time zone changes, and shift work. Others are changes in your routine, mental health problems, and menopause.
The following are things you can do to help your circadian rhythm get back on track.
Block Blue Light
Blue light is something emitted from technology, such as TVs, computers, and smartphones. If you have a hard time falling asleep at night, try to turn off all of your devices at least an hour before you go to bed.
There are also glasses and goggles you can wear that block out blue light.
That’s actually something nighttime workers will sometimes do—purchase blue-blocking glasses that they use when they’re driving home during the day to make their brain think it’s night.
Follow a Sleep Schedule
No matter what, if you can try to go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time each morning, it can help reset your circadian rhythm. This includes on the weekends. Don’t stay up too late or wake up much later than you would normally, because just doing that one day a week may impact your body’s internal clock.
Go Outside at Sunrise and Sunset
Our circadian rhythm is based on the natural cycles of light. If you stayed outside all day, your circadian rhythm would naturally start to match the sun’s cycle, but that’s not a realistic goal for everyone.
Most of us work all day indoors, but you can go outside as soon as you wake up, or as close to sunrise as possible. Try to go outside and expose yourself to the morning sun within a few minutes of waking up.
That lets your hypothalamus know that it’s time to wake up.
Then, in the evening, do the same thing within 30 minutes of sunset, which lets your brain know it’s time to start winding down for the day.
Don’t look at your smartphone during this time or filter the light with sunglasses.
Throughout the day, if you feel your energy waning, try to get exposure to natural light. For example, take a walk in the sunlight so you can reset your circadian rhythm and boost your energy.
When you’re eating plays a role in your circadian rhythms as well.
Your body requires a lot of energy to digest the food you eat. If you can follow an eating schedule, that’s just one more way to put your body’s cycles back on track and help it know what to expect next.
For example, make it a goal to eat at least two hours before you plan to go to bed every day.
Use Amber Light Post-Sunset
After the sun goes down, you can use amber light bulbs inside. LED smart bulbs are a good way to be able to easily change the types of light you’re using in your home depending on the time of day.
Amber light helps replicate a sunset, and you may find using them is relaxing.
Go to Sleep When You’re Sleepy
When you start to feel sleepy in the evening, rather than fighting it off to watch more TV, go to bed. It may be early, especially in the winter, but if you’re tired, your body is telling you it’s time to go to bed. The sooner you can go to bed after sunset, the better for your circadian rhythm.
Finally, if you have nights where you can’t fall asleep, don’t just lay there. Get up, out of bed, and out of your bedroom. You don’t want to create a cycle of associating your bed or bedroom with insomnia.