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Sleep Deprivation - Why do we care?
I’ll save us time and not go too far into the science. Odds are, if you’ve recently experienced even a single night of limited sleep you are feeling fatigued, a little hangry, have decreased ability to concentrate, are short on patience and willpower, and just want me to get to the darn point. It’s not exactly a formula for a great day!
When we’re short on sleep our body’s regulatory processes and hormone levels are majorly disrupted. Long-term, sleep deprivation can lead to impaired cognitive functioning, decreased athletic performance, chronic grouchy mommy, and add up to whole mess of health issues and chronic diseases.
The number one trick is to not make sleep deprivation a habit. As someone who once thought other healthy habits could offset skimping on sleep, I can tell you firsthand the results are ugly and it’s a long road to recovery.
But what about those moments when life is just too good to go to bed on time? After all, my husband and I want to experience the joy of getting caught up in a kidless conversation, or most recently, watch the Cavs journey to the finals. Is it possible to survive the next day, as we know the Team Valentine munchkins will rise early to remind us dirty diapers, meltdown moments, and nonexistent naps still exist?
Luckily, IT IS POSSIBLE to make a comeback if we take on late nights in moderation. Here are some simplified, scientific strategies to survive a sleepless night.
What can we do about it?
If possible, plan ahead.
Try sleep banking. One study took a group of nonchronically sleep deprived men and extended the amount of time they slept each night prior to a night of total sleep deprivation. Compared to a group who did not sleep bank, they had better physical performance, increased time to exhaustion, and improved cognitive functioning (Arnal & Guillaume, MMSE, 2016). At our research center we’ve observed similar results in studies where Soldiers sleep bank prior to rigorous field training exercises. Work to develop your own sleep strategy, even if it’s just squeezing in a few extra minutes the days leading up to a late night event.
Eat more nutrient-rich vegetables and foods high in vitamin C throughout the days prior. Foods high in vitamin C, other antioxidants, and phytonutrients can have protective benefits when the body is about to go into a period of stress or deprivation.
The Next Morning
Perform these activities in the morning to strategically reset hormone levels and get your sleep-wake cycle back on track:
Get natural sunlight. Good ol' vitamin D is a wonderful antioxidant. Note: It should not be sunlight through a window, as the rays are filtered and can limit vitamin D processing.
Exercise to promote a well-timed cortisol spike. Do not exercise if it means you have to wake up early and get even less sleep. Instead, aim for a few quick walks mid-morning or in the early afternoon.
Ground yourself. This is a newer idea and research is limited. However, it’s too easy not to try! The idea is to step outside barefoot in the grass, soil, or sand (asphalt and concrete lack conductivity). In theory, electrons from the earth transfer to our body and bind to free radicals that are produced in response to stress, possibly reducing inflammation and fatigue. Also, being in contact with nature just feels good and promotes overall relaxation. So after getting in some morning movement take a few moments to get your inner hippie on!
End your shower by running cold water on your face and chest. Even just one minute can help optimize mitochondria, which are the little cells responsible for helping your body produce energy. This little morning ritual definitely puts some pep in my step!
One of the best (but most challenging) things we can do:
Time caffeine intake to promote high quality sleep. Caffeine has a half-life of about 6 hours. This means even if we no longer “feel” the effects of the caffeine, if we consume 100 mg at 3pm, 50 mg can still be present in our body at 9pm.
We may be able to fall sleep, but even small amounts of caffeine can inhibit our ability to enter into the deep phases of sleep where recovery takes place. When stressed by lack of sleep our body desperately needs this recovery! So enjoy every last sip of coffee, just aim to consume it early to late morning.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Go into the day expecting a hunger beast to make an appearance by mid-afternoon. Sleep deprivation can mess with hormones that help our body feel full, compromise willpower, and fog our ability to make good decisions. By evening, we may easily convince ourselves we are in an all-out Ben & Jerry’s emergency. I assure you, a late night sugar rush will not lead to a good night’s sleep. Instead, try to buffer that beast:
Stay hydrated with consideration for the extra hours you are awake and active.
Eat good-for-your-gut bacteria found in foods like sauerkraut, sprouted grains, organic yogurt, apple cider vinegar, kombucha, or other fermented items. Gut health and our immune systems can be compromised any time our bodies are under additional stress.
Incorporate extra greens into your day. Phytonutrients and antioxidants found in vegetables and high-quality greens supplements can help combat the effects of the additional stress our body is under.
As much as possible, practice good sleep hygiene to promote high quality sleep.
Keep the lights dim for at least one hour prior to sleep.
If you must use a device prior bed, use free applications like Night Shift (iPhones) or F.lux to decrease exposure to sleep disrupting light.
Sip on Chamomile or a sleepy time tea.
Sleep in a room that is as dark as possible, including elimination of small LED lights.
Turn all phones to airplane mode.
My husband and I recently ended a date day filled with running and biking by exploring our favorite beach town late into the night. We had a blast, but we were hard on our bodies! Before bed we took a diluted shot of apple cidar vinegar, darkened the room, and turned our phones to airplane mode. The next morning we drank some water and coffee, and headed to the beach for a sun-filled, barefoot jog. We may or may not have needed some extra grounding to combat some adult beverage induced free radicals!
Afterwards, we ended our showers with bursts of cold water and purchased a wheatgrass shot from a boardwalk juice shop. Despite a long drive home, we passed on afternoon caffeine (it took all our might!). We made sure to incorporate a scoop of sauerkraut, a high-quality greens supplement, and a nutrient-rich protein shake into our afternoon. By evening, we attempted to return to our sleep-savvy routine between the ebbs and flows of little ones revolting because mom and dad went away.
Do you have any tricks you’ve found especially helpful to comeback from a late night? Share and comment below!
Together, we can take small steps that create a resilient foundation of health and happiness.
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