How sleep deprivation affects your health

Picture this: it’s well past midnight the night before your biggest midterm of the semester. Odds are that when you’re hit with a snack craving. Instead of having a balanced and nutrient-rich meal, you’re digging into a bag of chips (or animal crackers, my personal favourite).

Well, you’re not the only one inclined to make unhealthy food choices while sleep-deprived; studies show that proper metabolic functioning and managing food cravings are closely linked with a good night’s sleep. On a biological level, disturbances in a healthy sleeping pattern will cause the hormones that control hunger and energy levels to become unbalanced, tricking your body into thinking it’s hungrier than it actually is.

Unfortunately, evidence shows that “catching up” on sleep over the weekends has a less-than-desirable effect. According to a recent study, people who slept in two days per week had higher insulin sensitivity than those that never caught up on sleep, meaning that these individuals had an impaired ability to regulate their blood sugar. But this doesn’t mean that it’s good to always be in a “sleep debt” and never catch up on lost sleep either. Instead, make yourself a healthier sleep schedule that is both attainable and balances the many aspects of your life.

Surveys show that in general, sleep routines around the winter break become messed up, and students may have a hard time readjusting to the regular routine of the semester. Professionals believe that establishing a healthy sleep routine should be a priority for students starting back in after the holidays. Here are three tips to help you establish and stick to a healthy sleep schedule this term.

First, practice good sleep hygiene by not using any screens before bed. The blue light emitted from your devices interferes with your body’s natural production of the sleep hormone melatonin. You can also plug your phone in on the opposite side of your room, which will force you to get out of bed when your alarm goes off. You can also take advantage of your phone’s “Do Not Disturb” and “Night Shift” functions to minimize blue light interference.

Second, let your roommates know what your schedule is like. Be sure to tell them if there’s a particular day of the week that you have to be up earlier and need to go to bed earlier the night before so they can be quiet so as not to disturb you.

And finally, although it may seem daunting, stick to your new sleep schedule – even on the weekends. Any drastic changes to your sleep schedule during the weekend will disrupt your circadian clock and will make it harder for you to get out of bed when you need to during the week.

There are many benefits of sticking to a schedule that allows you to enjoy quality, consistent sleep. For example, immune chemicals known as cytokines are produced during sleep, which enhance your ability to fight infections and diseases. Your body also releases hormones that help regulate mood during sleep, and neurons involved in concentration and learning are able to repair themselves.

Did you enjoy this article? Be sure to download the CampusWell app for more like it as well as some easy and healthy snack recipes! Be sure to check out events happening around campus next week for Bell Let’s Talk Day. If you have any questions, concerns or suggestions for what you’d like to see discussed in this column, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at healthintern@mta.ca and follow on Instagram @mtahealthintern. Have a happy and healthy week!

Rachel McDougall
Rachel McDougall is a contributor to the Argosy.