Sleep Awareness Week is March 10-16

Sleep is not a waste of time. In fact, sleep is as critical to our survival as food and water. Only when you sleep can your body repair itself from the hard work it does every day. Adequate, quality sleep increases levels of human growth hormone, which in turn improves your ability to recover from injuries.

Kathryn Nelson, health coach for Northern Arizona Healthcare, provides some useful information on the importance of getting enough sleep.

Sleep is essential for your brain. Our brains have a system to get rid of metabolic waste, called the glymphatic system. Ten times more active at night than during the day, it effectively gives you a brain shampoo. This can reduce your risk of dementia and cognitive decline.

Chronic lack of shuteye, however, can contribute to cancer; heart disease; diabetes; depression; memory loss and cognitive impairment; as well as infertility in both men and women. Sleep expert Charles Czeisler of Harvard Medical School found that people who sleep fewer than five hours a night for five consecutive years have a 300 percent greater risk of hardened arteries.

If you’re trying to lose weight, bad sleep can sabotage your efforts: In one University of Chicago-led study, sleeping less than five and a half hours a night decreased the loss of body fat by 55 percent. That’s because sleep deprivation leads to increased hunger by disrupting your ghrelin (stimulates hunger) and leptin (signals fullness) hormones. Hormone disturbances can increase your cravings for carbs and sweets during the day, and render you less able to control those cravings. The result: belly fat.

Poor slumber also impacts our relationships by increasing activity in amygdala, the primitive part of our brain, and decreases activity in the frontal and insular cortex responsible for social control, awareness of right and wrong, and decision making. Without enough sleep, you become an angrier, more selfish, argumentative version of yourself.

So, how to get the best sleep quality and quantity?

Be consistent. All phases of sleep are important, and you will benefit the most if you make your sleep routine consistent every day of the week. Try to go to bed and get up at about the same time, even on weekends.

Watch your alcohol intake. Alcohol consumption too close to bedtime causes an REM rebound effect that disrupts sleep and memory. Small amounts of alcohol before 6 p.m. with a lot of water will reduce these effects.

Keep a caffeine curfew. Caffeine has a half-life of eight hours, and some people metabolize it even slower. Stop your intake of caffeine at noon.

Don’t overuse sleep medications. They add only a small amount of sleep time, and not the best quality sleep.

Make melatonin. This important sleep hormone is produced in your gut. Boost your good gut bacteria so it can communicate with cells that produce melatonin. Eat your veggies and avoid processed foods.

Try magnesium. According to the National Institutes of Health, magnesium is responsible for over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body. However, this mineral is quickly consumed by stress. Supplementing with magnesium orally or topically in the evening can support better sleep by relaxing your muscles.

Don’t forget Vitamin D. It appears to have direct effects on sleep regulation. Low Vitamin D is associated with restless leg syndrome, which may impair sleep.

Stay asleep. Waking up during delta (deep sleep/non-REM) makes it hard to wake up in the morning when the delta sleep kicks in again. To make sure nothing interrupts your sleep, use blackout curtains and avoid the artificial blue light that comes from electronic devices (which decreases melatonin production at night). Several apps can reduce this blue light, and you can also purchase blue light blocking glasses.

Treat sleep apnea. More than 25 million American adults suffer from sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is related to heart attacks, heart failure, weakening of the blood-brain barrier (increases risk of infection), impairment of cognitive function, daytime sleepiness, weight gain and more.

Be awake when you’re awake. A good night’s rest begins in the morning. Ten minutes of sunlit exercise between 6 and 8 a.m. can reset your cortisol (an important stress hormone) for the day. Also, reducing stress and mastering relaxation during daylight hours will positively impact how you sleep at night.