There’s a lot of factors that can impact your ability to get a good night’s sleep, which can have an impact on your health. Dr. Jlyn Pritchard shares why sleep is so important, why good sleep can be hard to get, and how to change sleep habits.
Dr. Pritchard: Humans have always needed to sleep. At a base level, our bodies are designed to be active and move — then rest and recover. While every age group has its own unique sleep requirements, sleep seems to be the only time that our body, brain, and immune system are able to rest, restore, and rejuvenate new cells. Sleep impacts our growth, mental health, and our overall physical health
Dr. Pritchard: This is such a complex topic with so much research continually being done to better understand the relationship between stress and sleep. This is the explanation I tell my patients:
Thousands of years ago, there were many reasons we didn’t sleep through the night. We may have stayed up late to watch for predators or because our stomachs were growling if we hadn’t caught anything to eat. Women have also had historically poor sleep, as they were primarily responsible for raising children.
So, while we have evolved a lot as a species since our hunter-gatherer days, our sleep has not really changed much. When we get stress signals from our bodies, whether that be financial concerns, work-related anxiety, or from the very real stress from the COVID-19 pandemic, our sleep quality is impacted.
During chronic stress, our body releases a constant amount of stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine. Having these hormonal responses is what was able to keep us alive during primitive times — but now doesn’t serve us well when it comes to achieving a restful night of sleep.
Dr. Pritchard: I like to explain to my patients that there are five main reasons we can have chronically poor sleep:
Dr. Pritchard: There are a lot of symptoms and negative health impacts of poor sleep. For those who already have underlying sleep conditions (sleep apnea, insomnia, anxiety, and menopause), chronically insufficient sleep can aggravate the already existing symptoms. It’s a vicious cycle.
In the average healthy person, chronic poor sleep can result in the development of mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. A person with poor sleep habits may also experience chronic stress and reducing capacity to cope, which will worsen their symptoms further.
For people who are interested in losing weight, sleep health is essential. Studies have proven that having impaired sleep has an impact on weight loss and energy levels.
Dr. Pritchard: Personally, I take a conservative approach to rerouting learned behaviors and sleep habits. Rewiring the neurons to break harmful sleep habits is not easy work, so it takes time and effort to work through it. I have incorporated questions about sleep quality into every wellness visit with my patients to help them stay on top of their sleep habits and check in with their sleep quality.
I highly recommend that anyone struggling with their sleep seek help from their primary care providers. We are here to help — and you can make positive changes to your overall health by fixing your sleep habits!
Dr. Pritchard is a physician at the North Spokane Care Center. She’s curious about what fuels and motivates us both physically and emotionally. Her goal is for patients to feel educated, empowered, and encouraged to live their best and healthiest lives.Meet Dr. Jlyn Pritchard
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