Getting the proper amount and quality of sleep is essential to your health. While most of us may think the worst effects of lack of sleep are crankiness and difficulty concentrating, chronic poor sleep may be something much more serious. The Washington Post quoted the ‘Harvard-Run Nurses Study’ as linking, “Insufficient or irregular sleep to increased risk for colon cancer, breast cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Other research groups scattered around the country have subsequently found clues that might explain the associations, indications that sleep disruption affects crucial hormones and proteins that play roles in these diseases.”
According to Dr. Mark Hyman, “Your biological rhythms that keep you healthy produce cyclic pulses of healing and repair hormones, including melatonin and growth hormone. When those rhythms are disturbed by inadequate or insufficient sleep, disease and breakdown get the upper hand.”
Here are some suggestions for making sure you’re getting the quality and quantity of sleep you need to function at your best.
Keep a consistent schedule – Going to bed at a different time every night keeps your sleep-wake cycle erratic and can interfere with your ability to enter into the deeper stages of sleep that result in you being well-rested. Even changing patterns on the weekends can mess up your sleep cycle for the rest of the week. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
Don’t eat a lot before bed – If your body is preoccupied with digesting a large meal, your quality of sleep will be affected. Even though you’ll likely feel sleepy after a heavy meal, sleep quality will be diminished. Combining protein with low glycemic-index foods at dinner time is a good way to increase your chances of getting a good night’s rest.
Avoid stimulants – Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol all have stimulating effects on the nervous system, which will interfere with sleep if taken too close to bed time. Alcohol might make you sleepy, but it leads to interrupted sleep cycles and a lack of restful sleep. Even if you’re able to fall asleep right after taking a stimulant, as some people are, stimulants prevent you from reaching the deep regenerative states of sleep necessary for feeling rested upon waking.
Regular exercise – Aerobic exercise routines in particular have been shown to help people fall asleep faster and have a more restful sleep. Although it may not be a good idea to do your workout right before bed as a raised heart rate increases nervous system stimulation and can actually interfere with rest.
Sleep enough – Most of us need 8 hours of sleep per night. Some naturally lean more toward 7 or even 6, but if you’re forcing yourself to get by on less than you need you will suffer in the long run. If you find you don’t naturally sleep for 8 hours, that’s fine, but don’t force yourself to get by on 6 hours when you should really be getting 8.
Clean your sleep environment – Electronic devices create electromagnetic fields (EMF). EMF radiation interferes with sleep. Chronic exposure to large doses of EMF radiation, such as living near power lines or sleeping in the same room where the power enters the house can cause chronic insomnia. Even doses of EMF radiation from working on a computer immediately before bed can interfere with sleep.
Make the bedroom ideal for sleep – Keeping your room cool, dark and quiet makes for an environment prefect for sleep. A comfortable bed and sleep attire are more important than you might think. Bright bedside clocks or loud fans can interfere with reaching deeper sleep states. The pineal gland needs darkness at night in order to produce melatonin – the sleep neurotransmitter. You may want to consider a sleep mask and earplugs if silence and darkness aren’t possible.
Start a relaxing bedtime routine – Dr. Mark Hyman recommends taking “a little ‘holiday’ in the 2 hours before bed”. Most people can’t turn directly from normal daytime activity to sleep on a dime, so lay off the Internet, TV and phone conversations in the hours before bed. Try reading (something relaxing, not doom and gloom or exciting thrillers), taking a warm bath, listening to soothing music or meditating. A regular bedtime routine signals the body when it is time for sleep, making the transition quicker and easier.
Go to bed when tired – It may sound obvious but trying to push yourself to stay awake when you’re clearly ready for sleep is detrimental to the natural sleep cycle. That “second wind” could end up interfering with your sleep when you do decide it’s time to turn in. And if you can’t fall asleep, experts recommend getting up and doing something else distracting until you do feel tired. Laying in bed agonizing over insomnia can cause stress that exacerbates the problem.
Supplements and aids – Prescription medications and over-the-counter sleep aids often cause drowsiness and inevitably lead to dependence and habitual use. Natural remedies like teas of valerian, passionflower, chamomile, linden, catnip and hops, essential oils like lavender, or relaxant nutrients like the amino acid treonine (found in green tea), calcium or melatonin offer more practical and natural sleep assistance. But remember, these supplements are not a cure and should only be used until the root cause of sleep disturbance is identified and eliminated.
Dr. Mark Hyman says, “When you are sleep deprived, your cortisol rises — and so do all its harmful effects, including brain damage and dementia, weight gain, diabetes, heart attacks, high blood pressure, depression, osteoporosis, depressed immunity, and more.” Lack of amino acids (protein), certain medications, too many stimulants in the diet; any of these things can be interfering with your sleep. Sleep apnea and snoring could also be a hidden element preventing a restful night’s sleep (this can be a dangerous condition, so if you suspect you suffer from sleep apnea you should get professional help). Overall, it’s important to find out the root cause of your sleep problem and not just try to cover it up with sleep aids for the rest of your life. Your health may be depending on it.
Author by Doug DiPasquale