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Are you chronically sleep-deprived?

No, getting by on four hours of shut-eye is not a badge of honour. You could make yourself very sick in the long run if you don't sleep enough

It's easy to be in denial about how much sleep we get and how much we need
It's easy to be in denial about how much sleep we get and how much we need (Unsplash)

Netflix: Are you still watching?

Me: (checks watch, it's 1 am) yes.

I am sure more than one of you can relate to this, especially after endless lockdowns and significant disruptions to our work-life balance. When working from home, our days run into nights, and nights run into days, and we no longer have a grasp on our traditional routines that made us feel grounded and rested.

It's easy to be in denial about how much sleep we get and how much we need. After all, that's what caffeine and energy drinks are for, right? For some people, it's a badge of honour to operate on as little sleep as possible. It's become "cool" somehow to be able to burn the midnight oil and get up and still function the next day. As one study titled Are We Chronically Sleep Deprived (which was conducted in 1975, I should add) says:

"…we go to sleep when we wish to, but we get up when we must. The advent of the electric light yielded fertile ground for extending our wishes well beyond the fall of darkness, and the more recent television has added stimulation to that time." 

If they were concerned about the electric light, I could only imagine what they think of the internet, smartphones, and social media.

Also read: Why your diet is more important than drugs for metabolic health

According to a medical research paper entitled "The Extraordinary Importance of Sleep," being sleep deficient can cause a host of various ailments and diseases, such as hypertension, type-2 diabetes, impaired immunity, mood disorders, dementia, and obesity. 

Speaking to obesity, specifically, it may come as a surprise to some of you that being sleep deficient and obesity are linked. But, that begs the question, what does sleep do to help regulate your body weight? And, how can you improve your sleep success to feel and look your best?

Let's start with the fundamental system operating your body's energy systems, your metabolism. The job of your metabolism is to use energy to keep your body alive - and in simplistic terms, use the energy you consume as food to burn as fuel. When you are sleep deficient, your metabolism decides that you need to conserve your energy, and therefore will burn fewer calories the following day - sometimes up to 20% less. And suppose that doesn't convince you that sleep is critical towards a well-functioning metabolism. In that case, researchers from the John Hopkins Medicine says that even one night of missed sleep can create a prediabetic state in an otherwise healthy person. 

To add insult to injury (almost literally), you become more fatigued during your daily workout, burning fewer calories and exposing yourself to injury - that is, if you even have the energy to exercise at all. Of course, the last thing you need on top of feeling sleep deprived is being in pain, but it also makes it more difficult to burn calories by staying active if you're hobbling on crutches.

And finally, when you're exhausted, you don't crave nutritious foods.Instead, your body starts asking for high-calorie or sugary food to boost your available energy since you were stingy on the sleep the night before. And, dare I say it, you're more likely to overindulge in foods at night than you are, say at 8 am.

To make up for our energy-starved state, most of us will rely on caffeine or energy drinks to make up our rest deficit the following day. However, caffeine has a half-life of 8 hours in your bloodstream. That means you will still have the stimulant partying around your veins up to 8 hours after your last cup. This means that your 4 pm ritual perk-me-up may likely be keeping you up. It's a vicious cycle.

How can we improve our sleep success to look and feel our best? It starts the moment you wake up, not when you're going to bed!

When you wake up in the morning, if you can, try to wake up with natural light rather than the alarm clock. Get moving as soon as you wake up, and your body will start it's waking up process the moment your feet hit the floor. If this is a struggle for you, place your alarm clock or phone across the room so you have to walk to your phone when you wake up.

On the days you're feeling tired, opt for a low-impact exercise that helps restore and heal your body, rather than making it feel more stressed and tired. Activities such as swimming, pilates, yoga, and walking are all great activities to do.

During the day, try and keep to less than 2-3 cups of coffee or tea, with your last one around 2 pm. If this is a struggle, opt for decaffeinated coffee or tea for the "ritual," without the added caffeine. At night, limit alcohol consumption. Although alcohol can make you feel drowsy, it impacts the quality of your sleep at night.

As night time approaches, start powering down approximately 30 minutes before your desired sleep time. The sweet spot for sleep duration is a minimum of 7 hours; this is before researchers have noticed the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation. However, most people do well between 7-9 hours of nighttime sleep. So count back from when you need to wake up and set your sleep-ready alarm.

Also read: How to choose the right personal trainer

Dim your lights and turn off your blue screens (tv, smartphone, etc.). If you have any racing, stressful thoughts in your mind, jot them down on a piece of paper.Then, listen to music, take a warm shower, do whatever you need to make yourself feel relaxed and in the mood to sleep.

And with that, my friends, I wish you a restful sleep.

Jen Thomas is a woman's weight loss coach based out of Chennai

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