The amount of sleep needed by each person varies, but for adults, getting at least seven hours each night is crucial to a healthy mind and body. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people getting insufficient sleep are more likely to suffer from chronic health problems including cancer, depression, diabetes, hypertension and obesity, as well as a reduced quality of life and diminished productivity.
Many people think that the only way to tell if you need more sleep is to feel tired, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes, even our behavior patterns and even our food cravings can indicate that we’re in dire need of sleep. Here are some signs that you likely need more slumber:
You need a constant supply of caffeine.
If you need more than one cup of coffee each day in order to function, you may not feel tired (thanks to coffee’s significant caffeine content), but you likely need more sleep. Organic tea and coffee aren’t bad in moderation, and science has shown that they can provide disease-fighting antioxidants along with many other awesome health benefits. But if you’re drinking 3 or 4 cup per day—or more—it’s a good idea to reevaluate your daily intake of this powerful stimulant.
I suggest limiting yourself to one cup of a high quality caffeinated beverage before noon. When you do so, you may notice that you’re able to fall asleep much easier at night, and that’s because your body will have had more time to release the caffeine in your system. Studies have even shown that caffeinated beverages are risk factors for poor sleep quality. And don’t forget about chocolate as a caffeine source. Dark chocolate is healthy in moderation, but I don’t recommend it as a bedtime treat.
You’re getting sick more often.
Did you know that your sleep quality can affect your ability to fight infections? A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine analyzed the sleep patterns of 153 healthy men and women for two weeks. The researchers found that there was a direct link between better sleep habits and better immune function. Specifically, they found that participants who got less than seven hours of sleep were almost three times more likely to develop a cold than those who clocked eight hours or more of sleep each night. Aside from using diet and supplements to boost your immune system, try getting to bed earlier each night.
You crave sugary snacks each afternoon.
Similar to caffeine, many people often mask their tiredness by consuming more sugar-rich foods and drinks. In fact, many so-called “energy drinks” are really just sugar and caffeine bombs, and while that sugar may provide a quick burst energy, it is also leads to an unpleasant crash. A 2010 study revealed that just a single night of partial sleep deprivation can induce insulin resistance, which means that the body’s cells have trouble absorbing the sugar glucose, which is used for energy. Insulin resistance increases your risk for chronic health problems like diabetes, heart disease and stroke—and can also cause you to crave more sugar.
Getting a better night’s sleep can help normalize your hormone levels and reduce cravings. Sugar may mask your need for sleep temporarily, but you will pay for it later. during waking hours, I recommend eating energy boosting snacks that are full of healthy, whole foods that will keep energy levels high. Avoid starting your day with sugar (standard boxed cereals and pastries are a no-no), and try not to rely on candy and cupcakes to get your through your day. For more help on reducing sugar cravings, check out my article, 5 Steps to Kick Your Sugar Addiction.
You’re hungrier than normal.
A second mid-morning breakfast? Yes, please! If you don’t get the energy your body needs from sleep, it will often try to make up for it by craving more calories. The main reason for this common phenomenon is that not clocking enough hours of sleep (or getting low-quality sleep) can wreak havoc on the hormones leptin and ghrelin. Ghrelin is a hormone made in the stomach that tends to rise before and fall after meals. It is the appetite-stimulating hormone and one of the main contributors that cause people to crave unhealthy snacks. Leptin is essentially ghrelin’s opposite: It’s the hormone that tells us when we’re full. A study published in the Journal of Sleep Research demonstrates that just one night of sleep deprivation can decrease leptin while increasing ghrelin levels and feelings of hunger. As a result, long-term sleep deprivation can lead to weight gain and obesity. To avoid that possibility, pay attention to abnormal hunger levels, which can be a sign that you actually need more rest—not more food.
You’re a grouch.
If any ongoing negative emotions can’t be directly explained by some personal crisis or other justifiable circumstance, you may want to consider whether your grouchiness if a result of lack of sleep. Getting poor or inadequate sleep is known to cause stress and irritability. Case in point: A study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania found that subjects who were limited to an average of slightly under five hours of sleep per night for seven consecutive nights experienced an elevation in confusion, tension and overall mood disturbance. The real shocker: It took two full nights of adequate sleep to get the subjects back to normal. So if you find yourself getting bent out of shape too easily, or snapping at your loved ones or coworkers, it might be time to hit the hay.
*Feature image by Sonia Sieff for The Telegraph.
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