Insomnia 101. Why lack of sleep can play havoc with your health. How to break the cycle.

If you are reading this post at 3 or 4am in the morning then chances are: a)  you’ve just come back from a big night out, b) you work shift work or c) you suffer from insomnia. In fact it could be all three!

A lot of emphasis is put on exercise and diet for general health and wellbeing. A big part of the wellness picture is sleep, the importance of it and what happens to your body when you lack the rest and recovery you need.

“Insomnia, or sleeplessness, is a sleep disorder in which there is an inability to fall asleep or to stay asleep as long as desired”.

Insomnia is one of my least favourite things,  as I know when I am lacking sleep and cannot recharge, I am reducing my levels of optimal health as well as performance. Quality sleep is vital to wellbeing. Repeated periods of lack of sleep can play havoc on your hormones, prevent weight loss, reduced memory and mental performance and create dangerous situations if you are not functioning with 100% attention  (for example such as driving or operating heavy machinery).

Insomnia can be irregular based on circumstances, stress, over thinking things, over training, a bad diet, the wrong foods before bedtime or even bad lighting and ventilation in the room. The key is to ensure insomnia and not sleeping through the night does NOT become a pattern.

According to the National Sleep Foundation the common symptoms of insomnia include

  • difficulty falling asleep
  • waking up frequently during the night
  • difficulty returning to sleep
  • waking up too early in the morning
  • unrefreshing sleep
  • daytime sleepiness
  • difficulty concentrating
  • irritability

Sleep patterns are different for everyone, some fall asleep quickly, others take a while. The key is when you are asleep that your body has the ability to go into a deeper NREM sleep mode as this is where all the magic happens to regenerate cells, recovery for muscles and tissue and recharging of your body battery.

Why is sleep so important – what’s wrong with lack of sleep? 

  1. Lack of sleep reduces your senses, can affect your memory, mental and physical performance.
  2. Lack of sleep or drowsiness is one of the leading causes of road accidents by people falling asleep at the wheel.
  3. A higher cortisol level in your body creates a stimulated environment of ‘stress’ reaction which plays havoc with your hormones and overall wellbeing.
  4. Lack of sleep can severely affect your bedroom mojo – so if you want to stay an athlete in that area then get plenty of rest 🙂
  5. When your body does not get enough sleep it   releases more of the stress hormone cortisol. Excess levels of cortisol can break down skin collagen, the protein that keeps skin smooth and elastic.
  6. If you don’t snooze you won’t lose (the weight). Lack of sleep can result in appetite irregularities as well as your body not being in a relaxed state, high cortisol levels can inhibit weight loss.
  7. Lack of sleep also plays havoc on your immune system, increasing your chances of colds, flu and general illnesses as your body is not functioning in its ideal state.

Tips to break the cycle of insomnia:

At night:

  • Avoid TV, illuminated alarm clocks and other digital stimulus in the bedroom.
  • Read a book before you go to sleep rather than watching television or working late on the computer.
  • Meditate, concentrate on breathing and channeling your thoughts from worry to a place of peace.
  • Create a regular bedtime routine and a regular sleep-wake schedule – i.e in bed by 10.00pm and awake at 0600am for example.
  • Do not eat or drink too much close to bedtime.
  • Create a restful environment that is dark, cool and comfortable – a well ventilated room is essential.
  • Avoid disturbing/loud noises – consider a white-noise machine to block out disturbing sounds.
  • Play restful music to help you relax or practise meditation as per above.
  • If you are awake then get up, grab a glass of water and read a book or magazine for a few moments. Then go back to bed. Do not turn on the TV, computer or anything with screens, bright lights or lots of noise.

During the day:

  • Reduce your  caffeine intake  and avoid it all together late in the day.
  • Avoid alcohol and nicotine, especially close to bedtime.
  • Exercise, but not within three hours before bedtime – make sure you have sufficient time to wind down and relax post training before you go to bed.
  • Keep a sleep diary to identify your sleep habits and patterns that you can share with your doctor or a specialist. You may find that you start recognising your own patterns and can change some habits. Include foods you eat at night-time and the time you go to bed as well as get up in the morning.
  • Keep a diary of things that are on your mind, get them out of your head and on to paper  – even if it’s a list of things to do for the next day.

Recharge your batteries:

Think of lack of sleep over several nights as your i-phone never being charged properly from the beginning. This results in the battery life being shorter before it needs to be plugged in and recharged. It works the same for our bodies. If we do not fully recharge our batteries then we diminish our energy levels, ability to handle stress and perform daily tasks.

Finding a balance is key to being a fit, healthy,  happy “best” of you.

As always, enjoy your journey to optimal health & happiness

Nikki x



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