Lack of Sleep: what it does to your body

Common Signs & Symptoms of Sleep Deprivation

Sleep: Are you getting enough and its impact on your wellbeing

On the subject of stress, this month I'm going to discuss an aspect of your life that stress can greatly impact—sleep. If you feel you are not getting enough sleep this should help you.

The current economic situation in America is hurting many people's quality of sleep and the amount of sleep they get, as they worry about their jobs, retirement funds, and mortgage. But stress is just one cause of insomnia and sleep disturbances.

Sleep problems are also related to many chemical and hormonal imbalances, as well as blood sugar imbalances, cardiovascular disease, and other health issues. In addition, there is a connection between poor sleep and leptin /ghrelin imbalances.

This imbalance is also related to obesity, which in and of itself is related to poor sleep. It's a never-ending cycle!

When you break it down, 50 percent of women in midlife and beyond are not getting the solid, rejuvenating sleep they need. Even if they're able to fall asleep, they can't seem to stay asleep. In fact, compared to their younger counterparts, older women sleep about two hours less per night, and if they awaken prematurely, it takes them four times longer to get back to sleep (as reported in an article in the publication Sleep).

Ideally, everyone should be getting seven to eight hours of sleep, but according to the National Sleep Foundation's Sleep in America poll, the sleep deficit for most of the American workforce amounts to a whole night's sleep lost every week (Sleep).

Clearly, sleep must become a priority in our lives!

Desperately Seeking Sleep

There are two categories of restorative sleep: rapid-eye movement (REM), and non-REM. Both are important, but the most profound rejuvenation and repair occurs during non-REM slow-wave sleep (SWS).

During this stage of sleep, neurons that connect the brainstem to the main part of the brain start firing in a slow, hypnotic rhythm. The result is a decline in heart rate and blood pressure, relaxation of sympathetic "fight-or-flight" nervous activity, and a reduction in blood levels of cortisol (the "stress hormone").

In addition, during SWS, growth hormone is released to drive the rebuilding, refurbishing, and replacing of damaged tissue. However, as mentioned earlier, several factors can affect these restorative stages of sleep, and lack of sleep can cause a number of health conditions.

Let's take a closer look at some of the causes of sleeplessness, how insomnia impairs your body, and what you can do about it.

Stress and Hormones Wreak Havoc

Sleep disturbances affect significantly more women than men. Scientists have traditionally believed that the night sweats menopausal women experience were a major reason why women in this age group have trouble sleeping, not just because they're disturbing, but because there's a link between having a higher core body temperature and having insomnia.

But subsequent studies found that even young women who don't have hot flashes or night sweats are also more likely than their male counter-parts to have sleep problems (Sleep).

It turns out that hormones, especially ovarian hormones, affect sleep through the ventrolateral preoptic (VLPO) area of the brain.

Neurons in the VLPO trigger deep sleep and help regulate body temperature. Normally, human body temperature is diurnal, meaning it has two phases: higher during the day-time and lower at night—and the evening cool-down is a physiologic cue that it's time to go to sleep.

But in reproductive-aged women, changes in estrogen during the menstrual cycle inhibit the VLPO, resulting in less ability to cool core body temperature at night and a marked decrease in REM sleep. When the menstrual cycle causes changes in estrogen and progesterone together, non-REM SWS is also suppressed.

As you can imagine, with the hormonal imbalances that take place during perimenopause, sleep impairment is even worse.

There's also an age-related blunting of the evening cool-down, which weakens the sleep cue even further. Needless to say, the hormonal and age-related effects on a woman's VLPO can turn bedtime into a time of frustration. Another big factor in many women's sleepless nights is chronic stress, which is at a fever pitch these days thanks to the economy.

During non-REM SWS sleep, cortisol levels are supposed to drop and stay low. In the morning, they're supposed to increase in an effort to power the transition from sleep to wakefulness, and to support the alertness and vigilance necessary to get through the day's challenges.

But beginning in middle age, evening cortisol levels don't drop back down as low as they used to in our younger years. As a result, sleep patterns can become more vulnerable to the effects of even small stressors.

God wants you well rested. Meditate on these restful verses. Really chew on it!

I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the LORD sustains me.

~Psalm 3:5

In peace I will both lie down and sleep, For You alone, O LORD, make me to dwell in safety.

~Psalm 4:8

Next time I will give you concrete steps to help you sleep like a baby! For tonight, I pray that your sleep will be peaceful and full of lovely dreams!

Dr Susan

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About the Author

Best selling author and national speaker Dr. Susan has sold over 2 million books on health & wellness. She has appeared on numerous national and regional radio and television shows and has been featured in hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles. She has Served on the clinical faculty of Stanford University School of Medicine and taught in their Division of Family and Community Medicine. Dr. Richards became an ordained Christian minister in 2009 and, within a year, she began doing hospital ministry in the ICU's, critical care and rehabilitation units in the San Francisco area community three times a week. Her ministry is based on the supernatural healing power of God and Jesus Christ and she has seen many miraculous healings of seriously ill patients. The ministry receives over 20,000 prayer requests for healing each week which are answered by their faithful and devoted prayer team. She is currently developing the first Medical and Health Ministry Training Program of Supernatural Healing in the United States. Her medical ministry is at