The longevity and quality of our lives depend on getting enough sleep. Poor health habits, increased stress, and radiation, light and energy emitted in our high-tech world have created a culture that runs on unhealthy sleep.
In preparation for ‘sleep week,’ I did some extra research on its benefits. I quickly realized that my knowledge on the importance of sleep only scratched the surface of how critical it is to our health. I was both stunned and motivated by what I learned. I’ll start by sharing my ‘ah-ha’ moments with you (with my favorite podcast quotes), and then give you some tips from the experts on how to get better sleep.
‘You don't get a badge of honor if you don’t get enough sleep.’ This misconception of being able to run on limited sleep is detrimental to our health. For most adults, anything significantly less than 8 hours can result in weight gain, hormonal imbalance, fatigue, cognitive impairment, and mood irritability. Adolescents should be getting 10-12 hours.
‘Brains are more active at night than they are during the day.’ This explains why we need adequate sleep to store and synthesize information and to improve our memory.
‘Your muscles repair themselves when they sleep.’ It doesn’t make sense to strength train, lift weights and work so hard if your body isn’t able to reap the rewards.
‘Most adults have an excess buildup of stress hormones.’ When our bodies don’t have enough melatonin, they compensate by producing more cortisol (aka fight-or-flight hormone) to keep us awake. And we don’t have the capacity to think through decisions very well when we’re running on cortisol (as sleep deprivation shuts down the pre-frontal cortex).
‘It can take your body 3 hours to get ready to go to bed/shift its neurochemistry.’ This is why exercising or working right before you hit the pillow is not recommended. It takes our brains (and bodies) time to wind down.
‘Alcohol can reduce your REM and deep sleep levels by 60-80%.’ Make sure you watch your beverage intake and think about how well you want to function the next day before you reach for that drink.
‘Any sleep drug you take can significantly reduce the quality of your sleep.’ While many medications and sleep aids claim to improve your sleep, that might not be the case as they can disrupt our bodies (and stop them from producing what signals the sleep process).
Here are some behavioral strategies that promote better sleep:
Create a routine. Get up and go to bed at the same time each day—even on the weekends—and get some sunlight when you first wake up. Start winding down an hour or two before bed.
Sleep-ify your bedroom. Make sure it’s dark, cool and quiet, and that you have a comfortable mattress. You might need to get earplugs, a sound machine, eye mask and/or blackout curtains.
Triumph over tech. Use blue light blockers to shield ‘junk light’ that keeps us awake and/or commit to ‘no screen time’ at least two hours before bedtime.
Limit alcohol and caffeine. Be mindful of your food and beverage intake, and avoid alcohol and caffeine (which includes coffee, tea and chocolate) in the late afternoon and evenings.
Properly fuel your body. Make sure you hydrate (and get enough water) during the day so you don’t drink too many fluids before bed. If you are restricting healthy (complex) carbohydrates, especially at dinnertime, or not eating enough calories during the day, it may be difficult for your body to maintain blood sugar levels overnight.
Manage your stress naturally. Find ways to reduce stress during the day, such as deep breathing, mediation, and utilizing essential oils. High quality CBD oil can also help synthesize cortisol and decrease stress levels. If necessary (to get you on track), consider taking adaptogenic herbs instead of sleep medication. The dosage levels of melatonin capsules are typically high and not recommended for regular use.
I hope these findings and tips from sleep experts give you a new appreciation for sleep and its critical role in living healthy. I have reframed my mindset from ‘I don’t have time to sleep’ to ‘Sleep is the healthiest thing I can do for myself.’ And am inspired to create a nighttime routine (and stop working so late) to hopefully develop better and more consistent sleep habits. Sweet dreams!