Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Why Sleeping Beauty had it right

I never sleep. Recently, my best friend has pulled enough all-nighters at school to have been diagnosed as medically nocturnal. I never believed the hype until I got here -- college isn't just professors and classes and being away from home, it's a lifestyle. The difficult part about this, though, is how that lifestyle means crazy stress levels, late-night calls for Chinese takeout, and 5 am bedtimes. No surprise one of the biggest threats in college is the freshman fifteen!

It's tough to balance the due dates and research papers, not to mention the work shifts, club meetings, and some resemblance of a social life. I can attest to this in the three all-nighters I've pulled in the past week. When we're so overloaded in life, whether in college or balancing mom-dom and a career, it's easy to steal time away from what should be our time to relax and recharge. So what's the deal with sleep? Can't I just balance myself out again over the weekend? If I feel fine during the day, it can't be that big of a deal, can it? Check out why sleep is so vital to our health and why it's time to keep it at the top of our "to-do" list!

Sleep deprivation affects your thyroid and stress hormone levels.

The thyroid is responsible for balance within your body system, including serotonin levels (the hormone responsible for putting you to sleep when it's dark outside) and endorphin release (your happy hormone!). Sleep heightens your ability to deal with stress, making you more productive throughout the day and more readily-abled to conquer that jerk at work!

Sleep is your body's natural defense against daily wear-and-tear.

Cosmetic companies have advertised their product's ability to "reverse the effects of free radicals in the air"...but you have that ability already, better than any lotion or cream, and for free! Sleep reconstructs body tissue and clears your mind of irrelevant thoughts from the past day, freeing up your focus for the next morning's activities and embedding in memory the important ideas from yesterday.

Not sleeping will make you fat.

One of the other hormones affected by sleep is leptin, which tells you when you're hungry and when you're full. Tie two and two together and you'll notice that not sleeping causes your leptin levels to go berserk, leaving you stuffing your face for the entire day, but never feeling full. Aside from this, sleep deprivation often causes us to make yucky eating decisions, either by eating a snack right before we try to snooze or by encouraging us to stray from our healthy eating plan. No good!

Most importantly...lost sleep can't be made up!

It's the most commonly used excuse to stay up all night: "Eh, I'll just sleep in 'til noon on Saturday, no big deal." However, sleeping isn't like eating, where what you've eaten across a few days can balance itself out. Sleep is exclusive to every 24 hours (following the circadian rhythm)...meaning that sleeping for three hours Tuesday and 11 on Wednesday doesn't average out to the healthy 7 hours a night. In reality, all you did was oversleep on one day and not sleep enough the other, both throwing your body off track!

If you're having trouble sleeping, try using the power of scent to lull you to bed. Lavender has an all-over calming effect and will ease you into your beauty sleep. Hiding light, whether from streetlamps, alarm clocks, or charging laptops, will have a huge impact on your ability to stay asleep; studies show that even the smallest amount of light can disrupt sleep wavelengths and keep you from achieving REM. Avoiding caffeine after noon, turning off electronics an hour or two before you hit the pillow, and taking a bath pre-bedtime can also help you relax and calm down.

If you still find yourself up and awake at night or unable to sleep straight through a solid 7 to 9 hours, contact a sleep specialist or doctor. You may have a sleep disorder (i.e. my best friend) or an hyper/underactive thyroid -- even food allergies can keep you awake when it's time to sleep!

So even amongst the high stress of that seemingly-irrelevant class and the ever-increasing cost of groceries, sleep is extraordinarily beneficial in productively addressing this chaos. After all, she wasn't a sleeping beauty in her ability to stay up for 36 hours.

Now, if I could just get to bed earlier than sunrise...

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