What really happens to your body if you don’t get enough sleep

Are you getting the sleep you need? Do you feel sleep deprived, are you making mistakes, forgetting things or feeling a bit foggy? If this sounds like you, you may not be getting the deep restful sleep that you need for physical and mental wellbeing. After a day of stimulating activity, your body needs deep sleep so your mind and body can rest and reset.

Getting more sleep is a goal many of us spend our life chasing – today we’re going to look closer at the actual cost of starving your body of the sleep it needs.

We live in a culture where we work long hours and it’s common for everyone from business leaders and stars, to busy mums and dads, to routinely run on very little sleep.

US President Donald Trump claims to only need four hours of shut eye a night; Richard Branson is renowned for getting five- to six-hours; Rihanna has Tweeted about her difficulty resting after a tour, often getting less than three hours a night for weeks. Is this really rejuvenation and anti-aging?   

If you don’t sleep enough you won’t be giving your body the time it needs to repair and it will be difficult to support energy and vitality as well as a healthy weight.

Getting less than six hours of sleep a night also puts you at risk of other health issues such as heart problems, cancer, diabetes, weight gain and more.

I’m also seeing a lot more clients who spend hours tossing and turning in their bed – not being able to fall asleep, as well as those that wake up too early or during the night.

How much sleep is recommended

Not everyone needs the same amount of sleep, but there’s no doubt that burning the candle at both ends will impact your ability to function at your peak. Most people need six- to eight-hours’ sleep a night.

I usually recommend that my clients finish eating by 7pm and are in bed by 10pm, that’s when your liver is regenerating. Your body is designed to restore itself while you’re sleeping.

If you’re eating heavy meals or drinking alcohol late at night, it’s going to impact your sleep patterns. It also puts pressure on the digestive system and kicks the body into overdrive at the time it wants to rest.

Instead of regenerating, your body will be using energy to digest and process food when it should be processing emotions. Your body becomes the rubbish tip for your thought patterns of the day.

One of the biggest results we see with our clients who are detoxing, is they say how much better they sleep - this is because the digestion is able to rest when it needs to.

The problem with broken sleep

Most people wake up two- or three-times during the night. By the age of 50 many women will wake three- to four-times a night. This can also be a problem with hormonal imbalances, that need to be resolved.  

I’m also seeing is a lot of people waking between sleep cycles and not being able to fall back to sleep quickly.

The time you wake up will be an indicator of where the sleep issue originates. If you find you’re waking between midnight and 2am, in Ayurveda this is seen as a pitta (fire or heat) issue and relates to built-up pressure and stress. Waking disturbances, where you wake up early in the morning, say between 3am and 5am, is more related to vata (air) which is centred around worry and anxiety.

Sleep imbalances

There are three types of sleep imbalances, which tend to be linked with your body type and the three stages of sleep. I’m going to look at the three issues now. If you don’t know your body type, you may want to do the test first (it just takes a few minutes).

vata imbalance may mean that you have trouble falling asleep, this is often because your mind is on the go. You may be unable to detach from the day easily, you keep repeating events in your head and worry about problems that often can’t be solved. Once you fall asleep, it tends to be light. People with a vata imbalance will often wake up at 3am wide awake – this is when vata is at its peak.

The best way to resolve a vata sleep problem is by clearing the mind – so that means meditation, pranayama breathing, alternate nostril breathing (nadi shodhana) and drinking Golden Milk (not only relaxing, but it releases serotonin in the body). Try our recipe for Golden Milk here. Another good remedy is our vata tea, available in Australia. You will also sleep better if you stay off the computer in the evening and don’t get too stimulated at night.

People with a pitta imbalance tend to have trouble falling asleep, they may wake in the middle of the night (pitta time is midnight to 2am) and are unable to go back to sleep for several hours. The cause of this is often that they are experiencing more emotional trauma in their life. Often, they get confused, angry and irritable, or are overheated

The worst thing for this imbalance is sleeping in a hot stuffy room. The best way to avoid these types of sleep issues, is to spend time in nature, doing something like walking on the green grass – this will cool emotions and keep the body temperature down. Other techniques to treat a pitta imbalance are avoiding excessive exercise, particularly in the heat of the day, drinking Ayurvedic medicated water (Cumin, Fennel and Coriander tea), alternate nostril breathingnot skipping meals and eating more naturally sweet fruits like watermelon, coconut, melons and sweet apples, particularly between 10am and 2pm.

Kapha sleep problems are different to the other ones – the issues here is sleeping too long and waking up feeling heavy. People with a kapha imbalance will often wake up feeling exhausted and their body tends to go slow because of too much sleep. A lot of the time they will sleep well, but wake up feeling like they haven’t had enough sleep – possibly even exhausted and dull. It’s not surprising that they aren’t sleeping well, their body is too heavy and overloaded.

The best way to treat kapha sleep problems is to rise before 6am – even set an alarm. Then get out of bed and get moving. Too many toxins, ama, is circulating around the body – and everything is stuck. Other techniques are gradually reducing stimulants and sweet foods like coffee, sugar and chocolate.

I usually like to see people with a kapha sleep issue taking a brisk early morning walk – best to do this before 6am, when they’ll get the biggest injection of energy, as the kapha time in the morning is 6am to 10am.Alternate nostril breathing is also beneficial as is eating lots of green vegetables, especially for the evening meal along with a small meal.

Other good sleep rituals

I recently spoke on ABC radio with a sleep specialist from Wesley Hospital, he said sleep problems are dramatically increasing because so many people are staring into their screens late at night and then expecting to easily drift off to sleep.

He suggested setting a sleep ritual that includes no electronics one hour before bed so your body can calm down. I also tell my clients that they should go to sleep at the same time each night as that sets the body in a natural rhythm. Best to sleep before 10pm.

Once you’re in a good rhythm you can also get rid of the alarm clock – it’s better to naturally come out of a deep sleep on your own accord. You can always use the alarm as a back-up.

I wake up at 4.45am every morning – it doesn’t matter if I’m in a dark hotel room or in my own bed. I never dream either as I’m not getting woken out of sleep cycles.

Meditation works really well as a way of stopping your racing mind. The Art of Living, a humanitarian and educational NGO, says that just 20 minutes of meditation can give you as much deep rest as eight hours’ sleep.

If you want to read more, check out my corporate health column on sleep in Business First Magazine.

If you would like some more help clearing up any sleep issues, get in touch – our team can help you.