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Could sleep deprivation be the root of your problems?

Let’s be honest, you’re a mum so I’m guessing sleep is not on the top of your priority list…. but it really should be. Sometimes people think of sleep as a waste of time but it is a critical function where your body balances and regulates its vital systems.

We are just so busy being busy, we tend to squeeze in as much as possible.

Once the children go to sleep we see this time as precious and try to prolong it. Every night we fall into bed exhausted and set a mental note to start getting to bed earlier…….. but the same thing happens the next night and the next, but if you truly understood the impact of depriving yourself of sleep you would be putting much more effort into making this a priority.

It doesn’t help either that children are so unpredictable with their sleep patterns, some simply can’t go to sleep without Mummy in the room, holding their hand and they are easily disturbed if they have a bad dream, get too hot, need the loo or feeling ill, and as I’ve discovered, when they have a late-night it does not equate to a lie in the next morning…. and for me, this typically means my kids are up and full of beans at 6 am! One study even concluded that sleep deprivation for parents lasts for 6 years……(don’t read that last sentence if you are pregnant with your first child!)

It is also true that us mums need more sleep that our partners…. according to sleep expert, Dr. Jim Horne, women, on average need approximately 20 minutes more sleep than men per night. This is because women’s brains are generally busier, we tend to multitask, are more flexible and as a result of using more of our brain throughout the day, we need more sleep time to recover. So, try using this ‘science-based evidence’ on your partner when negotiating whose turn it is for a lie-in!

But seriously, if you are consistently getting less than the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep per night, you are putting your body under stress in a variety of different ways. Not allowing your brain enough sleep can affect you physically and mentally. It can affect your mood, your eating habits, and has even been linked to many health problems such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

These are someof the effects that can occur due to lack of sleep;

Skin: When we suffer from chronic sleep loss the stress hormone cortisol is released which breaks down collagen making the skin less supple and healthy.

Body Weight: Another physical effect is the implications on our body weight, the correlation between sleep deprivation and weight shows that the body begins to crave carbohydrates and sugary food when lacking energy so you tend to eat more of the wrong sorts of food which provide a spike in energy, but then it dips quite rapidly and you start the cravings again, the body is feeling low on energy, you feel tired so any form of exercise usually gets put off.

Immune system: Without sufficient sleep your body makes fewer proteins that fight infection and inflammation, effectively weakening your immune system leaving you more susceptible to pick up colds and flu as your not able to fight off infections as easily as you should be because your body has not been able to rebalance and recover during the sleeping hours.

Diabetes: As mentioned above the cravings of carbohydrates and sugary foods can send your blood sugar a bit crazy, with on-going sleep loss less insulin is released after you eat. At the same time, the body releases cortisol (the stress hormone) to help you stay awake, but the increase in cortisol begins to prevent insulin from working effectively and causes less glucose to be absorbed by the body and it, therefore, remains in the blood which heightens the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Lack of sleep has also been correlated to high blood pressure and even to some cancers.

Mood: We become more irritable and more easily stressed with lack of sleep. We have less concentration and find it hard to break out of the low mood. This can have a knock-on effect on the people around us and we often end up feeling worse as the feeling of guilt sets in for being unreasonable with those who we hold dearest. Sleep problems can contribute to psychological problems such as depression and anxiety, one study of 10,000 adultsdemonstrated that people with insomnia were 5 times more likely to develop depression3.

Cognitive function and memory: For a memory to function properly there are 3 processes;

- Acquisition: learning or experiencing something new

- Consolidation: integrating the new information into the brain

- Recall: accessing the information after it is stored

Lack of sleep not only affects the ability to concentrate and learn efficiently, it also impairs the brain’s ability to consolidate a memory so that it can be recalled in the future. A study performed in 2017 suggested that even one night of sleep deprivation can affect memory and the ability to learn. It also found that women were more affected by sleep deprivation increasing their risk of accidents and mistakes.

So in this busy world we need more downtime to rejuvenate and allow our body and brain to regenerate, here are some useful tips on getting more sleep;

  • Don’t exercise intensely too close to bedtime, the body releases stress hormones keeping the body alert

  • Reduce stimulants such as caffeine or alcohol in the evening

  • Try bringing your bedtime forward 10 minutes at a time to create a new habit

  • Stick to a sleep schedule, even at weekends and holidays

  • Relax and clear the mind before bedtime, try relaxation techniques such as meditation or deep breathing

  • Keep the bedroom cooler at night as it helps the onset of sleep

  • Make sure your mattress is comfortable and try sleeping with one pillow, not 2 or 3

  • Don’t eat heavy meals, or excessive drink before bedtime

  • Avoid laptop, tablet or smartphone right before going to bed. The light stimulates the brain making it hard to fall asleep.

  • Try wearing an eye mask or earplugs for uninterrupted sleep

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