Poor Sleep Will Massacre Your Mental and Physical Health

“The two most feared diseases throughout the developed nations are dementia and cancer. Both are related to inadequate sleep.” Matthew Walker Ph.D.

Photo by Shane on Unsplash

Nothing you do can ever make up for garbage sleep. Nothing in your life is safe from the corrosive effects of poor or inadequate sleep.

Sleep is the foundation for every facet of your health.

If you’re human, then you need 8 hours of sleep to function optimally.

“But, but, but everyone is different, and I function better on six hours of sleep…”

If I had a quarter every time I heard or read something like this on social media, I would be able to retire, and I’m only 31.

Let’s clear the air on this. There is a tiny group of people with a genetic variation that is extremely resilient to sleep deprivation. The odds of you having that particular variation are infinitesimally small, like getting attacked by a great white shark while riding a unicorn under a rainbow and being struck by lightning small.

The gene is called BHLHEA41 or DEC2.

Assume that you don’t have it because you probably don’t, and even if you did, you would still need about 5 hours of sleep per night not to have significant physical and cognitive repercussions.

Now that we have that out of the way, we can talk about how and why sleep is so important for your health. Sleep is the foundation for every single physical and cognitive process. If you don’t have enough of it, those processes can and will break down very quickly.

For example, if you were to stay away for 24 hours, you would be at the same cognitive level as if you had a 0.1 blood alcohol level.

Photo by Devin Avery on Unsplash

“But I never stay up for 24 hours. This doesn’t apply to me.”

Wrong!

10 days of sleep restricted to 6 hours, or less will put you in the same place as pulling an all-nighter.

How often do you only get 6 hours of sleep?

Pretty often, I’d wager.

How often do the other drivers on the road only get 6 hours of sleep per night?

See where I’m going with this?

Blood alcohol comparisons aside, sleep truly does wreck your mental health. In fact, it’s been shown that you can reproduce the neurological brain patterns of major psychological diseases (PTSD, depression, bipolar, etc.) in otherwise healthy individuals by doing nothing more than reducing their sleep.

How insane is that?

The one that really gets me, though, is anxiety. I’ve dealt with anxiety for as long as I can remember, and since I’ve started focusing on my sleep, I’ve noticed a steep drop off in symptoms. Obviously, there’s the flip side as well; when my sleep takes a hit, anxiety goes back through the roof. That’s not the most convenient thing when you have a 5-month-old child as I do.

So what’s a parent to do?

Look at your values.

What do you care about more; watching Netflix, zombie scrolling, finishing up that project, or having robust physical and mental health for the duration of your life? I can’t answer that question for you.

What I can do is give you simple, proven strategies that will improve the quality and duration of your sleep, which in turn has the capacity to transform every facet of your health.

Sleep Strategies

Each of the strategies outlined below is either free or very low cost. You don’t need expensive gadgets to improve your sleep. All you need is a stalwart commitment to fundamental lifestyle practices.

Consistent bedtime- Your body functions in synchrony with the earth and sun. Everything runs on a 24-hour timer meant to keep us on track with the rising and setting of the sun. Because we’ve divorced ourselves, for better or worse, bedtime consistency is key from the rising and setting of the sun. Your body will begin to anticipate regular sleep/wake cycles and synch its circadian rhythm with that schedule. One of the best ways to reset that rhythm is to view both the sunset and sunrise, which via the light intensities and colors will assist in either waking you up or help you get to sleep.

Sleep environment- The place you sleep matters. Your room should be cool, dark, and quiet. Light and temperature are the two strongest eternal cues for sleep. So after you’ve viewed the sunset as discussed above, turning in for the night to a bedroom that is in the 65–68 degree Fharenheight range is a powerful combination to cue your body to sleep. Staying up and flooding yourself with blue light from your electronic device, though, will do much to undo that, so beware.

When the lights are out, hearing is your primary sense for threat detection. While that may not matter as much in our modern world, it was essential to our ancestors, and we carry their wiring. If the place you sleep isn’t quiet, the likelihood that your sleep is suffering is incredibly high.

Dialing in your sleep environment is by far the easiest thing to address on this brief list. All you need is some blackout curtains or a sleep mask, a way to chill your room a bit, and either a white noise machine or earplugs, and you’re ready to rock.

Photo by Kristina Petrick on Unsplash

Bedtime routine- Your bedtime routine is the bridge between your waking life and sleep. It acts as the dam that keeps the worries of the day from infiltrating the night. Your routine doesn’t need to be elaborate or long. It needs to be consistent. That’s it. Here’s an example; no screens after 10:00. Wash your face, brush your teeth, etc., and all overhead lights off by 10:15. Read from an actual paper book for 15 minutes using a dim bedside lamp, and lights are out by 10:30.

Every single night of the week.

You can take control of your sleep, and you can do it for free. I promise that if you do, your life will be demonstrably better. Your physical and mental health will be better than they’ve ever been, and you’ll have no one to thank except for yourself.

If you believe you need more help with your sleep, you can sign up for my newsletter below and get the FREE sleep hygiene guide, which will be released on Valentine’s Day.

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