Burning the midnight oil might help you meet your deadline but it can have a bad effect on everything from your skin and hair to your mental health. Sleep reduces inflammation in our body and it also produces cytokines that are signaling proteins that tell our immune system how to work, when we sleep. These inflammatory markers are not produced well when you lack sleep. A good night’s sleep is also important for maintaining immunity, energy restoration, and memory consolidation. While you might be determined to lose your sleep over your work, there are many other reasons which might be messing with your quality of sleep. And it’s not just revenged procrastination during the pandemic, but also hormonal changes, nutritional deficiencies, and lifestyle conditions such as diabetes that can wreck your sleep.
“Our body has an internal clock called the circadian rhythm and is conditioned to function according to how we treat it and the schedule we follow. This circadian rhythm is affected by various factors such as hormones, light, and darkness, which is also why it affects our sleep-wake cycle. We sleep in three phases and most sleep is in the non-REM (rapid eye movement) stage which is the deep sleep stage. The REM stage is the first stage and lasts for 90 minutes. Adults have a short REM cycle and it reduces as we grow old,” explains Dr. Samudrika Patil, clinical endocrinologist and CEO, Vedicure healthcare and wellness. Dr. Patil adds that the rhythm is controlled by the suprachiasmatic nucleus in our hypothalamus. It generates many hormones in our body and is responsible for many bodily functions. “It stimulates the creation of the hormone melatonin, which controls our sleep. It affects the circadian rhythm. We need to be in a dark place for melatonin to be secreted,” she says. It then forms a vicious cycle, that is, if you attempt to sleep at the right time, your melatonin production is regularised but if you mess with it, it affects your sleep and other functions.
Here’s what might be affecting your nightly Zzzs and why you need to correct it.
1) Odd working hours
If you felt that you could survive with just five hours of sleep and use all possible minutes of the day to finish your work, you can’t be more wrong. “When we stay up late, it causes a reverse melatonin and cortisol ribbon. Our body releases cortisol, adrenaline, and other hormones when we are active and working. Cortisol is released by the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis). When you stay up late, this cycle gets reversed, as the body releases cortisol when you are working at night, plus melatonin gets released when you try to sleep but by then it’s the day. This eventually reduces the quality of sleep and you will sleep for fewer hours,” says Dr. Patil. And since the HPA axis controls everything from digestion to your sex drive, losing sleep will have far-reaching effects eventually.
Insulin controls blood glucose levels. When one has insulin resistance, our body cannot use the insulin by beta cells to control blood sugar. “Diabetics often suffer from polyuria which makes you want to pee often and lose sleep over it. Insulin sensitivity also lowers the blood glucose level, which means you can get hungry in the middle of the night and wake up to eat. This also affects ghrelin or our hunger hormone, and if you eat food with low GI, it won’t keep you full for longer,” says Dr. Patil.
3) Stimulants and eating before sleep
If you love your post-dinner coffee, chances are it might be running your sleep. Caffeine being a stimulant will keep you up even if it’s sleep time. “Eating just a few hours before sleep also causes acid reflux and affects your sleep. Also, alcohol consumption causes dehydration and makes you lose sleep. If you work out at night, do not have pre and post-workout supplements as many of them contain stimulants such as caffeine,” says Dr Patil. She adds that medicine for blood pressure contains beta blockers and that affects sleep too.
When you sleep late and wake up late, you aren’t getting enough vitamin D which affects your sleep. Vitamin D deficiency also causes depression, which again affects the quality of sleep. “One of the first signs of depression is when you want to sleep even during the day. Anxiety and depression negatively impact our quality of sleep and anxiety in these times are specifically causing many people to lose sleep,” says Dr. Patil. She adds that issues such as migraine, gout, and arthritis which cause chronic pain also affect the sleep cycle, as does sleep apnoea which makes one wake up due to difficulty in breathing.
What you should do in such cases?
Make it a habit to wake up at a certain time and voluntarily force yourself to sleep on time and your rhythm will settle in a couple of weeks. “Keep your phone aside as screen light will affect your sleep time and create a feel-good placebo environment. It’s safe to consume one to 10mg of melatonin supplement an hour before sleep. Any doses 25 to 30mg can cause trouble, headache, and depression because of drowsiness during the day because when you feel drowsy, you believe something is wrong,” says Dr. Patil.