Are you just sick over your lack of sleep? We all know that when we are sleep deprived we process information slower, our reactions are delayed, and we have a tendency to be grouchy. But what kind of effect does an inefficient amount of sleep really have on our bodies?
Numerous studies reveal that the body’s immune system needs rest in order to function effectively, and that deficiencies in sleep are just as harmful to our bodies as stress and chronic illnesses. While sleeping, our immune system emits proteins known as cytokines. Cytokines both encourage sleep, and also help our body fight infection and inflammation (sleep also provides the opportunity for cell and infection-fighting antibody production). When we are lacking sleep, our body is without the opportunity it needs to release cytokine. And since a decrease in the production of cytokines makes it harder to have routine restful sleep, a vicious cycle of sleep deprivation and a compromised immunity begins.
To intensify the problem, our immune system often tries to counterbalance sleep deprivation by going in to overdrive as a means of defense. A hyper immune system causes body-wide inflammation, and can be the beginning of a downward spiral toward poor health.
It is understandable that occasionally you will get less sleep than you need. But patients who experience long-term sleep deprivation are at a higher risk for chronic conditions and diseases: diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, headaches, weight gain, and even impaired hearing and vision.
Experts suggest that the majority of adults thrive at around seven and eight hours of quality sleep each night. Anymore, and your sleep might not be restful. Teenagers require a little more (seriously, they are not just lazy!), and should get around nine to ten hours of good sleep. Younger children need ten or more hours, as their bodies are growing more rapidly and need more time to recuperate.
Stressing about your lack of sleep definitely won’t help your situation, so here are a few things you can do to ensure your body relaxes enough to receive the rest it needs:
- Create a bedtime routine, set a sleep schedule, and then stick with it. Going through the same wind-down process each night, paired with falling asleep at the same time each night, builds a sleep pattern your body will naturally crave.
- Exercise each day (at least four hours before bedtime).
- Stop smoking.
- Check the position of your pillow. You sleep best when your neck and spine are straight.
- Take a cue from Goldilocks—make sure the temperature in your bedroom is not too hot or too cold.
Many of our physical medicine techniques are known to improve a patient’s quality of sleep.
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