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Hope and Health Tips for the Sleep Deprived

Sleep DeprivationI remember when I first became a mother.

The explosion of love I felt in my heart as I held my precious baby girl in my arms, the joy and turmoil of learning to breastfeed, figuring out how to do everything with one hand, worrying over every little thing… …and being forced to wake up, every two to three hours…for months, and months, and months. 

It was a joyful, albeit challenging time. 

Even though I was used to taking 30 hour calls at the hospital, I could always come home and sleep for 12 hours (sometimes 18 hours!) straight to catch up after a busy call night.

But having a baby was different!  Even though, taking care of my little one at night was a balm to my soul compared to the long, stressful nights at the hospital, I was not used to functioning on so little quality sleep without opportunities to catch up, and I knew my health was suffering. 

After a while, I was forgetful, moody, my digestion was off, and even when I did have a little time to sleep I’d often lay there awake, somehow too tired to sleep. 

I began looking for answers on how I could stay relatively healthy, and sane, without the sleep I needed. 

I remember feeling so mad as article after article advised me to, “commit to 8-9 hours of sleep a night.” 

Didn’t they know “8-9 hours of sleep” was impossible with a newborn?!?! 

Didn’t anyone have any better advice for the bleary eyed, brain-dead, and desperate?

This isn’t just a concern for new parents. With any new cycle, new endeavor, or stressful event comes varying degrees of sleep deprivation. 

Whether you’re starting school, starting a business, moving, starting a new job, planning a wedding, getting divorced, going through menopause, or grieving, today’s post has the answers you need to get through your sleepocalypse.  


What happens to your body when sleep deprived

I’m not going to spend a lot of time on the negative effects of sleeplessness for two reasons:

#1: When you’re already worried about being exhausted, the last thing you need are more reasons to worry.

#2: I bet you’ve already looked up the side effects of sleeplessness at least a dozen times.

My purpose in sharing this information is to support my recommendations coming up, so stay with me, solutions are at hand.

Chronic sleep deprivation places a burden on your entire body including but not limited to:

  • Your cardiovascular system—putting you at an increased risk of heart disease
  • Your hormonal system—which regulates your sex drive, blood sugar, weight, and mood
  • Your digestive system—which effects your nutrition, mood, and immunity
  • Your cognitive function—”why did I walk into this room again?”
  • And your nervous system—by taxing your flight or fight response

Now that we have that straight, let’s look at some game-changing hope and health tips for the sleep deprived.

Tip#1: Keep your blood sugar stable

The problem: A lack of sleep does a number on your hormones, including your leptin levels.

Leptin is the hormone that regulates feelings of hunger. In addition, a lack of sleep increases the hormone ghrelin which stimulates hunger.

A lack of sleep also effects your glucose tolerance and can increase insulin resistance, which can lead to blood sugar issues quickly.

Bottom line, the sleepier you are the more likely you are to eat more than you need to and this causes energy and blood sugar issues.

How to fix it: Eat small, nutrient-dense meals frequently and have a little protein at each meal.

Studies, like this from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, have proven when you’re tired you will crave more carbs.

Unfortunately overindulging in refined carbs like sugar, will just make you more tired and weaken your immunity in the long run.

The best way to stave off sugar cravings is with high quality protein and healthy fats like coconut oil, nuts, avocados, and olive oil.

Keep your kitchen (and purse) stocked with the good stuff and you won’t be tempted to go overboard on the sugar.

Tips #2: Take these two supplements religiously

I don’t normally make across the board supplement recommendations, but for the sleep-deprived this combo can be an energy and immune-boosting life saver.

B-Complex—B-Vitamins are crucial to maintaining your energy, balancing metabolism, and supporting hormone health.

And when you’re under stress (and maybe eating a bit too much sugar to compensate) your B-Vitamin stores will be depleted, which will lead to more fatigue.

Probiotic/Prebiotic Combo—when you’re stressed out from a lack of sleep and/or a big life change, you are highly likely to experience digestive issues which can lead to more serious conditions like leaky gut.

A high-quality probiotic/prebiotic supplement will help balance your gut flora, maintain immunity, and help keep your digestion moving along more smoothly.

Look for a multi-strain probiotic/prebiotic supplement with at least 50 million CFUs containing no fillers or artificial sweeteners.

Tip #3: Exercise less, and exercise light

Yes, you read right.

The problem: A lot of experts will advise you to exercise for more energy—and this works if you’re already getting enough sleep.

However, when you’re sleep-deprived vigorous exercise places a heavy burden on your adrenals.

Your adrenals are responsible for releasing stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol.

When you’re exhausted, your adrenals are already forced to work overtime to compensate, so vigorous exercise should be avoided until you can get more sleep.

The solution: Exercise less than you normally would, 10-15 minutes 3-5 days a week is plenty, and stick to light, low-stress forms of exercise such as yoga, walking, or tai chi.

If you can exercise outside that will do even more to help reduce stress and unburden your adrenals.

Tips #4: Consider adaptogenic herbs

Adaptogens are herbs that help your body adapt and respond to stress.

You will need to check with your doctor, especially if you are nursing to taking certain medications, but some of my favorite adaptogens for sleep deprivation are:

Ashawaganda: Also known as “Indian Ginseng”, ashawaganda is growing in popularity for its ability to help calm the nervous system, reduce anxiety, and combat stress.

Available in tinctures or supplements, it has a pleasant sweet, woodsy taste and can make a world of difference to those who become irritable or anxious as a result of sleeplessness.

Holy Basil: Another ayurvedic herb also known as “Tulsi”, holy basil is a safe and natural herb for stress.

It works wonders on the adrenals by helping mediate the release of stress hormones, thereby helping improve cognitive function.

Widely available as a tea, but also in tinctures, essential oils, and pills I highly recommend holy basil to help you manage stress and boost your sleepy-brain power.

Rhodiola Rosea: A less commonly known herb, but a powerful one. Rhodiola rosea grows in the high altitudes of Russia and Asia, where it has been traditionally used to combat fatigue, increase immunity, sharpen the mind, and increase libido.

It has recently been researched for its beneficial effects on reducing fatigue, helping with depression and mood, and improving physical and mental performance.

Rhodiola has been used for centuries and is generally safe, but it is not appropriate in all circumstances so check with your doctor before you begin taking it.

Tip #5: Short sleeps (aka cat naps) add up to BIG relief

I laughed out loud the other day when I read an article from a successful working mother who said, for lack of a private space, she takes power naps under her desk using a heated dog bed.

Then I realized…this woman is on to something!

A plethora of recent research and books recommend power napping to recharge your batteries, increase memory, improve mood, boost your happiness, and increase overall performance and productivity.

Think you don’t have time? Think again.

This study proved even just a measly 6 minute nap will improve your declarative long-term memory.

Maybe I should get my own under-the-desk-dog-bed for the clinic.

As a former sleepocalypse victim myself, I truly hope this article has helped you see you can take steps to maintain your health even when sleep is at a premium.

All is not lost, there is hope, and you WILL sleep again…even if it feels like it will never happen.

In the meantime, follow the advice above and chime in the comments section if you have any tips for staying healthy on little sleep.

Power on!

-Dr. Alex