Insomnia may affect different people in different ways, but may affect as much as 25% of the population at some time or another and 9% on a regular basis. (Source: Carlson, 2008). How much sleep each person needs is different, so defining insomnia is difficult at best. Not everybody needs eight hours of sleep; some people may need as few as five hours of sleep while others may need up to ten hours to feel refreshed. Defining insomnia then must start with defining how much sleep you personally need to feel at your own very best. Sleep is important, not only for the rest that it provides, but because that is when your body recharges, refreshes and resets itself for the following day. Think of sleep as a reboot for your brain and your body.
Sleep is important not only for your mental well-being but for your physical health as well. Sleep deprivation, including insomnia can lead to weight gain, high blood pressure and increased risk of heart disease as well as confusion, depression and may worsen the early symptoms of some dementias. Sleep is one of the functions of the body that is regulated by proteins and increasing protein intake slightly may help get you back on the good side of the Sandman.
What Sleep Deprivation Can Cause
When you do not get enough sleep, even for one night, the levels of brain derived neurotrophic factor is reduced. This protein is crucial for storing new information and not having enough of it may lead to short term memory loss or the inability to learn and retain new information (Source: Gomez-Pinilla. Ph.D. 2009). Think of the last time that you crammed all night for an exam, only to find out that you remembered nothing on the day of the test- that is the effect of sleep deprivation lowering this crucial protein in the brain.
According to a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, those people who routinely get less than their optimal amount of sleep are up to three times more likely to catch a cold, even if they are otherwise healthy. Sleep boosts the immune system while sleep deprivation depletes it.
Sleep may also play a role in other hormonal functions of the body, including those that deal with hunger, satiety and digestion (Protein is a key factor in all of these). A study done by the University of Washington confirms that people who slept between seven and nine hours each night had a body mass index (BMI) of 24.8 on average, a full two points lower than those who do not get enough sleep on a regular basis.
You may also find that you have higher blood pressure when you do not get enough sleep, possibly because a lack of sleep may raise the level of stress hormones that in turn raise the blood pressure. The risk of high blood pressure for those who do not get enough sleep, especially for those who get five hours of sleep or less was 500 times greater than those who slept for six hours or more. Additionally, the short sleepers were also three times more likely to have diabetes as well (Source: Winters, 2010). A second study on the topic of sleep and blood pressure’s connection confirmed that women who slept five hours a night were 42% more likely to have an elevated blood pressure while those who slept six hours a night were 31% more likely to (Source: Seitz, M.P.H., R.D. 2008).
What Can Cause Sleep Deprivation
Everyone is likely to have a tossing and turning night every now and then for a variety of reasons. It becomes a medical problem when it continues on a regular basis, when it interferes with your mental, emotional or physical health, when lack of sleep is preventing you from doing things that you like or when you are falling asleep during day time activities. There are a number of things that can cause sleep deprivation and sleepless nights and they should be investigated and ruled out so that you can get back to sleeping and recharging your body.
Psychological Factors — In about half of the cases of insomnia, the problem is all psychological and may be related to job or family stress, depression or something similar.
Physical Factors — There are a number of aches, pains, allergies or other problems that can cause a sleepless night, sometimes a combination of several of these may make finding the exact cause difficult at best. If you have changed your routine or have started a new diet for instance, you may have a clue to the problem.
Environmental Factors — Noise, light, change in sheets, change in the season and other similar factors can disrupt the sleep patterns of some people, especially those who thrive on routine and familiar patterns.
Food factors — There are some people who are so sensitive to certain foods or beverages that they should avoid them altogether and some who can eat or drink them, go to bed and sleep like a baby for the whole night. If you know that you are a light sleeper or have been having problems sleeping lately, skip the caffeine beverages or anything else that contains caffeine (sorry, chocolate fiends). Be wary though, some people develop caffeine deprivation headaches that can be quite severe.
Eating before bed will not make you fat, despite some diet experts who claim the contrary. There is a theory that says that you gain weight if you eat anything after four pm, a suggestion that many people try to follow at least for a little while. But, after they spend a few sleepless nights staring at the ceiling and wishing they could eat the sheep instead of counting them, they realize that going as much as 16 hours or more without eating is a bad idea indeed. Having a high protein snack before going to bed is a much better idea. Suggestions include a yogurt, a bowl of cereal with milk (or soy milk if you choose), a protein supplement bar or a protein supplement shake can keep you from waking in the middle of the night and having to contend with cravings that could compel you to eat the rest of the leftover pizza in there.
Another quick and easy suggestion to keep your late night cravings at bay is the liquid protein supplement shot. Profect by Protica, is only 100 calories, so it is not going to make you fat even if you have it after four in the evening! It contains 25 grams of protein and can be a great way to make sure that you are getting all of your day’s protein, Vitamin C and other vitamins. It can also make sure that you are actually able to get the right amount of sleep without making you feel bloated and full.
Neil R. Carlson. Foundations of Physiological Psychology Seventh Edition Pearson Education. Boston, MA. 2008
Fernando Gomez-Pinellas. Fitness Magazine September 2009
Maia Seitz M.P.H, R.D. Got High Blood Pressure? Today’s Health and Wellness magazine January/February 2008
Catherine Winters. Sleep! It’s Non-Negotiable Prevention Magazine Rodale Publishing February 2010