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Sleep Deprivation: Experiences, Lessons Learned and Hope

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Last week I was able to attend a support group that my Supervisor holds every Wednesday. They got to talking about sleep and its role in eating disorder recovery. Now if you know me, you know this topic is right up my ally. I spent the last 1.5 years prior to January 2019 not sleeping much. I was averaging maybe 9 to 15 max hours per WEEK. Yes, you read that right…. Sometimes I would get close to a night’s worth of sleep within a whole week and lucky if I got more.

You may be wondering WHY I was getting so little sleep and HOW I was functioning on such little sleep for so long. I’ll tell you what… I really wasn’t. That chronic sleep deprivation caused my life to be chronically miserable. Yes, I know… sounds dramatic, but I’m really not trying to be. But it really was the worst time in my life.

As for the WHY… let’s just say me and sleep have never been great friends. Don’t get me wrong, I love sleep… but those feelings don’t seem to be mutual. Sleep doesn’t like me very much. I have a million and one sleep disorders… (ok now that is dramatic). I have restless leg syndrome, insomnia, periodic limb movement, and the list goes on and on a on a on. But that’s besides the point.

When I didn’t sleep much, I read so much on sleep in order to try to learn what was wrong with me and how I could fix it. I must have read maybe 50 books on sleep, but one book stood out to me in particular. Reason being he gets into the science of sleep and if you know me, you know I LOVE learning the science behind anything.

I learned so so many cool things in the book “Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams” by Matthew Walker such as why you get a “second wind” in the morning after pulling all nighters, why jetlag happens and how to combat it, how to reset your circadian rhythm, why sleeping pills are not the best treatment for insomnia, and health consequences of getting too little sleep [1].

After talking about sleep in the support group last week, I was inspired to write a blog on what I learned during this time in my life about sleep. Keep reading to learn about why sleep is so important to the body and review some tips I learned to try and get better sleep.

Benefits of Sleep:

  • Enhances your memory and your ability to learn new things. There is a strong link between sleep and learning / memory. Sleep helps cement the newly learned chunks of information.
  • Makes you live a LONGER, BETTER QUALITY life. The saying “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” is the worst saying because lack of a full night sleep will cause you to die quicker and have a lower quality of life
  • Makes you more creative
  • Lowers food cravings and regulates hunger hormones. Less overeating and feeling controlled by food.
  • Protects you from cancer and dementia
  • Lowers your risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes
  • Wards off colds and flu by strengthening your immune system
  • You’ll feel happier, less depression, and less anxious

Consequences of Sleep Deprivation:

  • prevents your body from strengthening your immune system and decreases ability to fight infection; may take longer to recover from illness and increased risk of chronic illness.
  • increased risk of respiratory distress
  • effects the hunger/appetite hormones leading to changes in eating patterns and body weight.
  • increases the risk of cardiovascular disease by preventing the body from healing and rebuilding the heart vessels and affecting systems that maintain blood pressure, blood sugars, and inflammation
  • Insufficient sleep can alter hormone production, including growth hormones and insulin as well as testosterone in men and estrogen in women
  • Living a shorter (and lower quality) life

The negative consequences of lack of sleep had during that time, didn’t start off too bad, but by the end of that chronic sleep deprivation, I was miserable. Physically and mentally, I WAS A MESS (just being honest here!). I was ALWAYS on the verge of tears. My hormones were out of whack, so I had the physical symptoms that result because of that. For instance, this might be TMI, but my period disappeared, which is a very important indicator of health for a female. My digestion? AWFUL… I won’t go into the details of that. Appetite? I was ravenous some days and couldn’t stomach food. My blood results as indicated inflammation. Showing up to my life day in and day out honestly miserable. I am not being dramatic here. I was very depressed.

When I was finally getting sleep again, I slowly started feeling a lot better. I would never wish that upon my worst enemy and wish people could all learn about the true benefits of getting enough sleep. I will never take sleep for granted again.

Sleep is the foundation of good health. Without proper sleep one cannot get the true benefits of physical exercise and eating habits. Every major system, organ, and tissue in your body suffers when sleep becomes to short. It is important to prioritize sleep in your life. An individual should always aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Getting less than 6 hours of sleep per night will lead to negative consequences mentioned above.

Tips for Getting Better Sleep:

  • Ensure your bedroom is tidy and ready for you to go to bed in. It should provide a calm and peaceful environment for you.
  • Close the curtains/pull down the blinds so the room is darkened and ensure the temperature is comfortable for you to sleep in.
  • Have a set bedtime and get up time and be consistent with this (including weekends). Your body clock will eventually get to know the routine.
  • Turn off your laptop/ipad and television (and put down your phone) at least one hour before going to bed.
  • Have a bedtime ritual – take a hot shower/bath, have a hot drink (not coffee though), write in your journal, listen to music, read a book.
  • Listen to an audio recording of sleep meditation/music – there are plenty of apps and hours of YouTube recordings which you can press play and leave until the morning.
  • Try CBT-i (Cognitive based therapy insomnia). A way to change your thoughts and patterns around sleep.

If you struggle you insomnia, the book says DO NOT depend on sleeping medications. This is because is does not let the body enter the same restorative sleep as if you were sleeping without them.

If your insomnia continues, please get in to see a specialist (sleep doctor) for up to date on evidenced-based treatments for insomnia or sleep conditions.


1. Walker, M. P. (2018). Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams.