We sleep to restore our bodies and minds; it is an active period where we synthesis hormones, develop muscles and repair tissues. It also is the time where memories are ‘consolidated’; this is a process where by short-term memories are moved to longer-term memory vaults in the mind. One of the hormones typically associated in people with weight control issues is cortisol and yup you guessed it, a lack of sleep leads to an increase in cortisol levels. As a double whammy sleeplessness also leads to the synthesis of more ghrelin, which essentially stimulates appetite and, even more depressingly, encourages fat storage.
Many of us (myself included!) suffer from un-rested nights (approx. 60%) with some of the first signs including irritability and mood swings, leading to more serious conditions like apathy and memory loss. Very often the cause can be something minor like the temperature of the room, noise, light levels etc… but with ‘stress’ being the biggest cause of short term sleeping problems there are usually more subtle issues at play. Even if the underlying problems are subsequently resolved and that stress is removed, the sleep pattern may not resolve itself and may turn into a longer-term problem so it is important to be fully aware of what is going on. This can be very difficult and frustrating for someone to rationally quantify in a state of irrational sleep deprivation so it is useful to have support around you to help you identify the issues here.
There are other reasons that can lead to sleep deprivation too such as alcohol/caffeine consumption in the afternoon/evening, shift work, travel/jet lag, some medications (decongestants, anti depressants) and mentally intense activities before bed to name but a few. Having a cool calm room without gadgets after a wind down period before getting into bed is usually a good start to giving you the best chance of drifting off.
Longer term sufferers may get some relief from cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which helps retrain our minds. Many people use the quiet of the night to solve their problems and as their mind races they become less and less rested, CBT can help challenge this thought process. Other people get fearful of not being able to sleep at night and CBT might be useful to break this cycle of insomnia by restructuring the thought processes to break unhelpful sleep beliefs and/or patterns.
Of course like most of these things a balance is key. So retraining your mind and body to live a healthy and active life will help infinitely; taking regular exercise, drinking enough water, putting mental boundaries between work and home life, and a couple of tricks for you to try would be to aim to get to bed earlier and earlier every night and to sleep without an alarm clock…your body will hit its natural circadian rhythm (nature’s alarm clock) and you will get the exact amount of sleep (and all its restorative benefits) you need and feel GREAT!!