Ah sleep. Sweet sleep. Sleep is an incredibly crucial part of the picture for our wellbeing. It is in fact during nighttime sleep that our body produces or interacts with many of the hormones required for healing, detoxification, tissue repair and appetite regulation. Some examples of the possible functions affected by poor sleep include:
- Repair and regeneration: human growth hormone production – this hormone stimulates cell reproduction and regeneration and therefore as you can imagine, is pretty crucial. It is produced during deep sleep and is important in adults and children alike. In fact, it has been found that growth spurts in infants coincide with increased sleep, and the suggestion is that human growth hormone is the link between the two.
- Satiety: leptin reduction – leptin is a hormone that suppresses our appetite when we are full so that hunger is inhibited if there is no need for energy. A prolonged period of insufficient sleep however can lead to a reduction in this hormone, which in turn can lead to a dysregulated appetite, making us hungrier than we need to be and wanting to eat more.
- Hunger: ghrelin increase – conversely to leptin, ghrelin is a hormone that stimulates our appetite and it has been found to increase in production with insufficient sleep. Therefore once again, it can negatively affect our society and our food choices. With the combination of low leptin and high ghrelin, there is more chance that someone may overeat or crave foods that are higher in sugar, which in turn can affect sleep (see below), and therefore a vicious cycle can ensue.
- Mood: amygdala activity – the amygdala is a structure in the brain that has a role in the analysis of emotion. Some research has shown that there was more activity in the amygdala of sleep deprived people when shown emotionally evocative information. It also displayed less communication with another area of the brain through which information is put into context. Instead, there was more interaction between amygdala and an area of the brain responsible for releasing the neurotransmitter norepinephrine which is a precursor for the stress hormone adrenaline. Although more research is needed to fully understand the effects of sleep deprivation on mood, it is clear and well documented that there is a link. So if you are feeling cranky, particularly irritable, or feel like your threshold for tears is lower than usual, do check that you are getting enough sleep!
A common pattern that I see amongst my clients is that over time and with increasing stress and demands, they end up getting to the end of the day feeling tired but wired. That feeling when you know on some level you are exhausted, but you get a second wind just before bed, or you feel super switched on within the exhaustion. This can happen as a result of dysregulated cortisol production resulting from periods of prolonged stress, and then of course the wired feeling makes it harder to get to sleep and therefore the cycle is perpetuated. In other cases, people may be exhausted at the end of the day, fall asleep very easily, but are then woken up regularly. The result is that at times of high demand – which is precisely when we need good sleep – is when we end up getting less sleep. Being a parent to young children is a good example of this, but don’t fret! There are ways to optimise the sleep that you do get and to support the body to cope with less sleep! Therefore, please stay tuned as I would like to offer some basic tips on how to help promote good quality sleep for yourself and for your child in my next blog.
For more information, please visit my website www.nurturebyfran.co.uk